Smog District Ordered to Hold Off on Paint Rule

TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

The South Coast Air Quality Management District was ordered Tuesday to temporarily rescind a controversial rule requiring manufacturers to make less-polluting household paints and varnishes.

In issuing the order, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe directed the AQMD to "consider and adequately address" the possibility that the rule might actually result in more smog, not less.

In filing suit against the smog district, 21 paint manufacturers, dealers and contractors had argued that they would have to reduce the amount of smog-forming solvents to make certain paints, varnishes and other coatings less polluting.

Such solvents, they said, make the products easy to apply and durable. Without them, they argued, the coatings would be of poorer quality and thicker, forcing painting contractors and do-it-yourselfers to mix in their own thinners or other solvents. This, they warned, could result in more air pollution.

"Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease, and that is certainly the case here," said Robert Wendoll, a spokesman for the plaintiffs and a leader of the Southern California Paint and Coatings Assn.

AQMD officials said the court order means that manufacturers can continue to make paints and other products according to their old formulas for at least another five months. Wendoll said the district could take as long as a year to examine the issue before reimposing the rule.

He also said the district board could choose not to reinstate the rule once it completes an adequate environmental impact assessment.

AQMD attorney Barbara Baird called the court order "primarily a delay" and said the district's governing board may appeal. Wendoll, however, said he believes an appeal is unlikely.

In adopting the requirements last February, the AQMD said they would affect from 15% to 25% of all paints and other coatings sold in California. The rule officially took effect last month.

The requirements did not cover popular water-based latex paints, but did affect such specialty coatings as quick-drying and high performance oil-based enamels, primers, sealers, undercoatings, stains, aerosol sprays, wood preservatives, varnishes, lacquers and shellacs.

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