Siding with environmentalists and against a major coal terminal at the Port of Los Angeles, air quality regulators decided Thursday that the facility must fulfill its promise to install two domes over piles of potentially hazardous petroleum coke.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District notified the Los Angeles Export Terminal that the agency’s staff has rejected the company’s formal request to halt construction of the covers.
AQMD officials concluded that there was no evidence that the terminal could meet air quality standards without enclosing its inventory of petroleum coke.
In December, the AQMD granted the company a permit to export petroleum coke after the terminal’s operator promised to build roofs to control airborne dust from the facility.
Residents and workers in the harbor area are concerned about the potential health effects of the coke, a byproduct of the refining process that is used as a fuel for heating and industrial purposes.
Among other effects, fine particles of the material can aggravate respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
“I think [the AQMD decision] is fantastic,” said Gertrude Schwab, president of the Wilmington North Neighborhood Assn., which fought for the domes. The firm “is supposed to break ground on the facility. I think the AQMD is going to hold their feet to the fire.”
Company officials now have 10 days to appeal the staff decision to a hearing board. Such a move could trigger a lengthy review process.
Gerald Swan, the firm’s chief executive officer, said Thursday that terminal officials are trying to work out a solution with the AQMD.
“We are extremely disappointed,” he said. “But we are still talking and would truly like to resolve the matter rather than going forward with appeals.”
Despite the possible appeal, conditions of the original permit remain in place, requiring terminal operators to break ground on the domes by today or face possible notices of violation from the AQMD.
In early July, company officials submitted a formal application to halt construction of the domes. News of the about-face surprised AQMD officials and angered residents who had lobbied for the covers.
Terminal operators contended that the domes were no longer affordable because the cost had risen dramatically as the company’s revenue from Asian exports was dropping. They also said the terminal was being unfairly singled out for more elaborate pollution controls although it already met air quality standards.
Bill Kelly, an AQMD spokesman, said that the application was denied because the agency’s staff questioned the reliability and consistency of the terminal’s air pollution testing.