By John Husing, Kimba Anderson and David Park, March 1, 2017
South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (AQMD) Board of Directors is debating whether to approve the 2016 Air Quality Management Plan. At issue is whether to approve the incentive-based plan, the result of months of careful discussion with all interest groups, or to introduce stringent command and control regulations never subjected to discussion or review. Two issues arise.
First, the board should reflect on the plight of people who are neither environmentalists nor business leaders but rather families struggling to make ends meet in a harsh world. The Inland Empire is a major target of AQMD. There, census data show almost half of adults (47 percent) with high school or less schooling and one in four children (25 percent) are living in poverty. The term “public health” is often used in AQMD circles but never to discuss the devastating impact that cutting off good jobs for marginally educated families will have on their health.
Today, most poorly educated families escape poverty by working in blue-collar jobs. Because they are dirty, these are the jobs the AQMD’s command and control efforts will destroy. One would be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer now willing to migrate into California. Now, logistics is the target. In the Inland area, trucking and warehousing has created 54,050 jobs since the recession ended, representing 23 percent of all new local work. Some 171,900 people now work in the sector which California Employment Development Department data shows paying $45,456 per year with 83 percent of workers in jobs not requiring post-high school training.
As a “public health” agency, should the AQMD board ignore the unintended consequences of its drive for environmental purity by using command and control efforts that inevitably reduce blue-collar jobs and force the poorest among us to pay the economic price? Not when there is a better way to move ahead.
That was why the current proposed plan relies in large part on financial incentives aimed at getting state, federal, regional and business entities to work to reach pollution targets. This was how the Clean Truck Program at the ports was done. It continues to dramatically lower port pollution without AQMD’s command and control intervention. The command and control rules which are the subject of board debate would destroy these carefully crafted relationships.
Incentives have the advantage of encouraging accelerated adoption of the most advanced technologies available that can reduce air pollution beyond the most stringent targets. Already, Carl Moyer grants and loans have funded equipment for that purpose. Proposals supported by major importers that would reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) by using inland rail to migrate containers to Inland warehouses could benefit from infrastructure spending. Investment in clean truck technology continues to clean up truck engines to where 95 percent of their pollution is eliminated. Subsidized solar panels are increasingly being installed on the newest warehouses.
If AQMD strategies are wisely implemented, they can help drive creation of California industries specializing in producing the equipment demanded by the greater business community’s need to reach pollution reduction goals. Historically, this has not been part of the agency’s solution mix, with most money spent on pollution-reducing equipment manufactured out-of-state and acting as a drain on, not a boost for, the California economy.
The Air Quality Management Plan’s $1 billion-per-year incentive strategy, developed in partnership with AQMD staff, could lead to reversing this situation if it is applied in a manner that nurtures local enterprise development. It would get regional executives to operate in a manner that simultaneously improves air quality and creates job opportunities for workers in industries currently falling victim to AQMD command and control efforts.
John Husing, Ph.D., is chief economist of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership. Kimba Anderson is senior associate consultant and David Park is director of air policy for Alta Environmental.
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