What part of 65,000 jobs and cleaner air don’t they understand?

Let’s say, in a fantasy world, there was a bill – in times of a Great Recession – that supported 65,000 jobs and would lead to cleaner air.
If you were part of the fantasy Legislature would you vote for it?

The real one did. And the Governor signed it.

The bill was SB 827 (earlier known as SB 656) by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles).  

It re-established a program at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) that provided tightly regulated public service agencies (fire departments, police departments, hospitals), pollution control projects (equipment upgrades, landfill gas recycling), public works (water districts, sanitation districts); schools, small businesses and others with free emissions credits needed to acquire air permits.  

For more than a year, a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) had created a moratorium on the permits, bringing construction projects, business expansions and installation of new, less-polluting equipment to a halt.

With SB 827 the SCAQMD could issue more than 1,200 delayed permits on Jan. 1, meaning workers could be hired and businesses teetering on the brink of bankruptcy could start generating revenue again.

But for how long?

The NRDC has struck again with a petition to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling on the federal government to halt SB 827 despite the fact it is wholly enforced within state lines.

The SCAQMD region is hugely important to the larger California economy. The four counties under its jurisdiction hold nearly half of the state’s population, with many communities experiencing unemployment beyond any seen in recent memory.

Without the SB 827 program, small businesses and public services would not be able to afford required air permits which cost on average about $234,000 for a gas station, $1.6 million for a hospital boiler or a tortilla fryer and oven, and $115 million for a landfill gas-to-energy project.

Instead, as we saw over the past year with the moratorium, projects and businesses would stall and the jobs that go with them would be lost.

In 2009, when reporting on the effects of SB 827 the Legislative Counsel wrote, in part, “if prompt legislative action is not taken to correct this situation, projects will be stopped from going forward or frozen in place, representing significant losses to the economy, as well as numerous well-paying jobs. The impact of approved projects not going forward will dramatically impede any economic recovery in southern California and contribute to another state deficit as a result of lower tax revenues.  Affected projects include equipment replacement to reduce air emissions, plus projects for essential public services such as hospitals, schools, landfills, sewage treatment plants, renewable energy projects, and small sources, including small businesses that are unable to locate or afford credits on the open market.

The SCAQMD lays it out very clearly stating the potential impacts if the NRDC petition is granted by the EPA:
• At stake are as many as 1,300 permits that have been on hold, delaying up to $10 billion of investment in new projects in Southern California.
• Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost or new hiring delayed at a time when the region is experiencing the worst economic conditions of the past 50 years.
• The permit moratorium has resulted in a slower clean-up of the environment and even setting back efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since many of these projects were unable to obtain permits for the installation of modern, cleaner equip­ment that reduces harmful emissions.

A massive coalition supports SB 827, including labor, small businesses, trade associations, chambers of commerce, school districts, dozens of cities, public works agencies and more including the Counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, the Orange County Fire Authority, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Southern California Association of Governments.

We support SB 827 because we see the livelihoods of hard working men and women and their families under attack every day from the crippling effects of this economy. It is unconscionable that the NRDC wants to add to these woes by halting a program that is giving the economy a very helpful jolt and improving air quality in the bargain.

With their votes and signature, the Legislature and the Governor made clear that they support SCAQMD’s permit program for small businesses and public service projects that is the underpinning for 65,000 jobs and cleaner air.

The EPA must reject the petition and let SB 827 stand.

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