Edison, AQMD Reach Key Air Plan Compromise
Southern California Edison Co. and the staff of the South Coast Air Quality Management District said Tuesday that they have reached a compromise that could remove a major obstacle to implementing a far-reaching clean-air plan for the smoggy Los Angeles Basin.
Edison and the AQMD staff said they have agreed in principle on a new approach for controlling power plant emissions of nitrogen oxides, one of the two chief ingredients of photochemical smog.
The agreement, if approved by the AQMD’s governing board, would eliminate Edison as a major industry opponent to the air plan. It would also set the stage for similar agreements with other industries concerned about the costs of complying with a sweeping new Air Quality Management Plan, which aims to bring the four-county basin into compliance with federal clean-air standards by 2007.
“The war is definitely over,” Mike M. Hertel, Edison’s environmental affairs manager, told reporters at a meeting at AQMD headquarters in El Monte.
“We’ve broken our lances here,” said Pat Nemeth, AQMD deputy executive officer for planning and analysis.
“I think this should send a message loud and clear to the business community in general that we are willing to talk and develop methodologies that work for industry and accomplish the air-quality objectives,” Nemeth added.
There still may be an uphill battle to win approval from the AQMD governing board. Several board members said Tuesday they were “skeptical” of the agreement and a leading clean-air advocate accused the AQMD staff of cutting “back-room deals.”
A vote on the agreement is scheduled June 14 by a hearing panel, which then will recommend a rule for limiting nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants.
The full governing board is scheduled to act on the rule in August.
Under the proposal, Edison said its cost of complying with tough new limits on emissions of nitrogen oxides would be cut to $500 million from $800 million--a 38% reduction from proposals advanced earlier by the AQMD staff. Hertel said $800 million would increase the average homeowner’s electricity bill by 2% to 3% a month.
To achieve the emission reductions, the new approach relies more on the installation of efficient boilers for steam-to-power electrical generators and less on expensive stack controls, known as selective catalytic reduction systems. Utilities would also not be required to place controls on individual generating units so long as total emissions from all their units fell within an acceptable average.
The average could not exceed a quarter of a pound of nitrogen oxides for every megawatt hour of power generated. The original proposal was more lenient, allowing about a third of a pound per hour.
The new approach is supposed to result in even stricter limits on nitrogen oxides but gives Edison and other utilities, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, seven additional years to comply. The new deadline for steam boilers would be 1999.
Nitrogen oxides, which are products of fuel combustion, combine with unburned hydrocarbons, such as gasoline fumes, in the presence of sunlight to form photochemical ozone. Nitrogen oxide also contributes to acid rain and smog, helps form microscopic particles that reduce visibility and helps accelerate global warming by contributing to the “green house effect.”
Selective catalytic reduction systems inject ammonia into the exhaust gas to react with the nitrogen oxide in the presence of a catalyst. This results in the production of harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor, which are discharged into the air. The American Lung Assn., which has studied selective catalytic reduction technology, said 90% of nitrogen oxide emissions can be reduced through its use.
Nitrogen oxide controls are essential if the basin is to meet federal clean-air standards. The South Coast air plan calls for an 80% cut in total nitrogen oxide emissions and an 85% reduction in hydrocarbons, sometimes called reactive organic gases.
For years, electrical utilities and oil companies have argued that the best way to reduce ozone, which can cause human respiratory illness and damage property, crops and forests, is to emphasize controls on hydrocarbons as opposed nitrogen oxide controls. The AQMD and state Air Resources Board, on the other hand, argued that controls were needed on both ozone precursors.
The accord between the AQMD staff and Edison illustrates how adversaries can reach agreement.
In the months leading up to adoption in March of the Air Quality Management Plan, Edison and the Western States Petroleum Assn. led industry opposition. They were particularly alarmed by the district’s proposed new emphasis on expensive nitrogen oxide controls.
Edison spent $1 million in preparing an alternative, which the utility argued would not only be far less costly but meet the federal ozone standard 10 years sooner than the district’s proposal.
But Hertel and AQMD officials, including Executive Officer James M. Lents, said Tuesday that, while both sides engaged in public posturing, they were meeting privately in an attempt to reach a compromise.
Lents, in a telephone interview from Washington, said the private discussions began last November. He said Edison asked for the initial meeting.
“I think it’s our job to work with industry and try to find the best solutions to the cleanup we can,” Lents said, rejecting charges that a secret deal was made.
Lents said he also conferred privately with the Department of Water and Power and with the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, which generate electricity.
Both Lents and Hertel said the agreement in principle was reached just days before the crucial March 17 vote approving the clean-air plan.
“I think they (Edison) probably (anticipated) the vote,” Lents said Tuesday. “I think it is a breakthrough. We’ve got Edison saying, yes, they will clean up even more than the (original) rule proposed.
“They told me at the time they wanted to be a part of the cleanup team, not an opponent. They felt like they had a positive contribution to make and wanted to get off that negative track,” Lents said.
Edison stopped short Tuesday of saying that it would no longer press its case for emphasizing hydrocarbon controls.
“We haven’t changed our mind. We still believe what the science says,” Hertel said. “But the AQMD board disagrees with us and given that reality, we’re going to do what we can to comply.”
However, the agreement between Edison and the AQMD staff was greeted cautiously by some AQMD board members and clean air advocates.
Board member Larry L. Berg said he was “skeptical.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good deal,” he said.
Nonetheless, Berg said he would not rule out voting in favor of it, provided that a pending written analysis by the staff is convincing.
Gladys Meade of the American Lung Assn. of California said that if the new nitrogen oxide rules are ultimately adopted, Edison’s compliance would have to be closely watched.
Meade and Mark Abramowitz, project manager of the Santa Monica-based Coalition for Clean Air, said it will be more difficult for the district to monitor compliance with nitrogen oxide limits. Under the original proposal, selective catalytic reduction systems would be placed on virtually all generating units and inspectors could easily see if the selective catalytic reduction units had been installed and take samples of stack emissions to check compliance.