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Air Agency’s Efforts to Assist Businesses Receive Good Marks : Pollution: Firms praise the AQMD’s streamlined procedures and its greater flexibility in achieving environmental goals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The South Coast Air Quality Management District--for years the focus of angry complaints from businesses big and small--on Thursday touted the results of a three-year effort to improve the way it regulates industry in Southern California.

“We think the agency is more business friendly without giving up on our environmental goals,” said James M. Lents, AQMD executive officer.

And business leaders generally agreed, giving good marks to the district for faster permit issuance and greater appreciation of the impact on the regional economy of the stiffest clean-air rules in the nation.

“I haven’t heard near the level of moaning and groaning that I heard five years ago,” said Lloyd Greif, president of Greif & Co., a Los Angeles-based investment banking firm with clients that include printing, manufacturing and packaging companies. “There is a new climate at the AQMD . . . . and I think it’s good.”

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Jeb Stuart, executive director of the California Manufacturing Assn.'s Air Quality Alliance, a group of 35 large manufacturers and utilities in the South Coast district, gave much the same assessment.

“I think they’re much more sensitive to the impact they have on the economy, and they need to be,” said Stuart, a former chief executive of the AQMD. “We also agree that they’ve done a good job in accelerating permit processing time and making the system work better.”

Yet even as district officials announced their good news, district switchboard operators were fending off yet another, if smaller, wave of complaints--this time from small businesses that have recently received annual bills under a state-mandated toxics program that in some cases have jumped by as much as 450%.

But for the most part, the district’s own programs have settled into more efficient routines as personnel have become more experienced and bugs have been worked out of the regulatory system.

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A backlog of 26,000 permit applications in 1991 long ago disappeared--though speedier permitting techniques have been aided by a falloff in permit applications in the depressed regional economy.

But district executives have also come up with flexible ways of lowering air emissions that are now being copied by air districts as far-flung as Illinois and Texas.

AQMD Score Card

Faced with a deluge of angry complaints from Southern California businesses about its clean-air rules, the South Coast Air Quality Management District set out in 1991 to improve its procedures. On Thursday, the district released a progress report on its efforts. The highlights:

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Faster Permitting

* 1991: Backlog of 26,000 equipment permit applications; waiting period averages 87 working days.

* 1994: No backlog; waiting period averages 37 working days; 85% of small-business permits issued within seven working days.

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* 1991: Inflexible regulations for big companies.

* 1994: A market-based emissions credit-trading system for the 390 largest businesses saves $58 million in firms’ pollution-control costs.

Extended Deadlines

* 1991: Strict rules for screen printers, wood furniture makers and aerospace industry that would have resulted in coatings--water-based, not oil-based--inferior to those of out-of-state competitors.

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* 1994: Rule deadlines have been postponed until new coatings meet industry quality standards.


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