New Republican Majority Flexes Muscle on Southern California Air Board

The long-time executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Barry Wallerstein, may be removed to make the powerful regulatory agency more business-friendly. The board meets in closed-session on Friday.

2 minute read

March 3, 2016, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

[Updated 3/4/2016] "Southern California's air quality board is moving to replace its top executive a month after Republicans gained a majority on the panel with new appointees who have vowed to make pollution regulations less burdensome for businesses," writes Tony Barboza, who covers air quality and the environment for the Los Angeles Times. The move comes as a surprise to board watchers.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District [AQMD] gave notice in an agenda item posted Tuesday that its governing board will hold a closed-door session to evaluate the performance of longtime Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein and consider his resignation, dismissal or other personnel actions

The 13-member panel consists of elected officials and other appointees from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The board is charged with adopting pollution control regulations to protect the health of 17 million people in a region with the dirtiest air in the country.

Barboza describes the political plays that made the action possible. The linchpin occurred when Orange County cities replaced "Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a Democrat and clean-energy advocate, with Dwight Robinson, a Republican councilman from Lake Forest who has been outspoken about the effects of air pollution regulations on businesses."

In a letter in support of Robinson's appointment to the air board last year, Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker touted the councilman's “strong, pro-business policies” and his belief that “governments at all levels need to reduce regulations so businesses can thrive.”

Reaction from Democrats and environmentalists was immediate.

"California Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who appoints one air board member, said the move to replace Wallerstein “is the latest in a line of anti-clean air actions instigated by the polluters lobby," writes Barboza

Bill Magavern, Policy Director for Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air, was even more direct. "I think this is an attempt by the big polluters, primarily the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), to take control of the Air Quality Management District," he told Planetizen. Magavern suggested one goal could be loosening regulations controlling emissions from Southern California oil refineries. See CCA's blog on the board's pending personnel action.

Barboza writes that the AQMD board chose to defy Wallerstein and "adopt a two-page alternative plan by the Western States Petroleum Assn. and other business groups that is expected to delay the installation of costly emissions controls at oil refineries and other major pollution sources and slow progress toward clean air."

WSPA showed its influence in the California legislature last year by defeating an oil reduction component in landmark energy legislation.

Hat tip to Gary Lasky, Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter 

[This post was updated with the correct spelling of Wallerstein.]

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 in Los Angeles Times

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