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Activists Urge Rejection of Pollution Credit Plan

TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Concerned that Southern California’s smoggy air will remain dirty, or perhaps even get worse in the next few years, leading clean air activists on Wednesday announced their opposition to the region’s controversial pollution exchange proposal.

The announcement by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Coalition for Clean Air and the American Lung Assn. heats up an already fervent battle that is dividing the Southland’s business community.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board convenes hearings today to debate whether to adopt the emissions trading program called RECLAIM, which air quality officials praise as a more economical and flexible way to combat industrial pollution.

For almost three years, the three environmental groups had teamed up with AQMD officials and business leaders to help shape the exchange program. But on Wednesday, the environmentalists said traditional anti-smog rules would be more effective in cleaning the air.

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“While we support in concept a market-based program, we cannot support any program that will result in dirtier air for Southern California,” said Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This program will benefit large polluters at the expense of the people who breathe the air.”

The goal of RECLAIM--the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market--is to force industries to cut their smog-producing emissions while giving them flexibility and financial incentives.

Instead of the traditional approach of using a series of rules to control industrial pollution, the AQMD would set annual emissions limits for about 400 major polluting companies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The companies could choose their own ways of complying, and those managing to reduce emissions beyond their annual limits could sell pollution credits to others that were having trouble complying.

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The environmentalists’ main concern is that the AQMD plans to set the initial limits for 1994 higher than current volumes of pollution--in some cases 15% higher. The limits are based on industrial conditions before 1991, when companies were polluting more.

AQMD Executive Officer James M. Lents has rejected suggestions of setting the limits lower, saying that basing them on industrial production during a severe recession is unfair and would harm the area’s economy.

Lents said it is more important to focus on the program’s long-range target--an 83% reduction in nitrogen oxides and a 65% reduction in sulfur fumes by 2003.

Most major industries endorse the program, including oil companies, power utilities, large aerospace firms and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Opponents, however, include the Gas Co., some of the lesser-polluting industries and several other local chambers of commerce and business groups. The opponents contend that the program is too risky and burdensome for smaller businesses.

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The board is expected to vote Oct. 15.


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