The governor signed Senate Bill 827 (Wright) on Oct 15, which authorizes the South Coast Air Quality Management District to begin issuing more than 1,200 air pollution permit applications frozen by a state court decision in November 2008.
“Tens of thousands of jobs and more than $5 billion in investment were foregone as a result of the court decision,” said AQMD Chairman William Burke, Ed.D. “The governor’s approval now helps jump-start our ailing economy while protecting our air quality.”
AQMD will begin issuing the first permits blocked by the moratorium soon after Jan. 1.
SB 827, first introduced as SB 696, allows AQMD to resume issuing at no charge emission “offsets” to small- to medium-sized businesses and public service facilities.
Specifically, AQMD can resume issuing offsets to businesses that emit less than four tons per year of smog-forming emissions, as well as public service facilities such as police and fire stations, schools, hospitals, landfills and sewage treatment plants. Businesses affected by the permit moratorium include gas stations, tortilla chip makers, automobile recyclers, grocery stores and many others.
SB 827 serves as a stopgap measure, temporarily lifting the permit moratorium while allowing AQMD time to complete rulemaking on its emission offset program pursuant to the state court decision. The legislation will expire on May 1, 2012.
Small businesses and public facilities have been unable to obtain offsets, also known as emission reduction credits, due to a lawsuit filed in August 2007 by the NRDC and other environmental groups.
The state judge’s final order in this case required AQMD to set aside two of the agency’s regulations governing its emissions offset program on California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) grounds. The judge made the decision even though CEQA compliance would otherwise occur at the individual project approval phase. That in turn put a halt to issuing new permits for facilities that needed emissions offsets from AQMD. The state court ruling also potentially revoked over 3,000 permits issued since September 2006 that relied on offsets from the AQMD.
Whenever a new or modified facility increases its emissions in Southern California, it is required to provide emissions offsets to prevent air quality in an already polluted area from further deteriorating. Offsets are generated when a facility or air pollution-emitting equipment is permanently shut down, or when an active plant controls its emissions to a greater degree than required by air quality regulations.
AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.