Evonne Martinez Watson resides in a disadvantaged community, suffers from severe asthma related to the poor air quality in her neighborhood and was among many who urged the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board on Friday to adopt the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule (ISR).
Watson is the chair for the Environmental and Justice Committee for the Sierra Club Los Angeles Chapter who joined dozens during the virtual meeting in asking the 13-member air district board to vote in favor of the ISR.
“We need this rule passed now,” stressed Watson, making her case early on in public comment period of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) 8-hour meeting and long before board members adopted the rule in a 9-4 vote. “Every little bit this agency can do to reduce emissions from sources of pollution is worth it.”
Telling the board “every drop in the bucket counts,” Watson sided with a majority of those making statements, many waiting patiently throughout the day to offer their input on the controversial topic.
Listening intently was South Pasadena Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti, who has served on the SCAQMD governing board for the past 13 years.
Commonly known as the Indirect Source Rule 2305, it is designed to regulate facilities that are indirect sources of air pollutants – trucks driving through and idling in the surrounding communities, many of which are in low income areas, going in and out of warehouses.
The rule applies to owners and operators of warehouses in AQMD’s jurisdiction with greater than 100,000 square feet of indoor floor space in a single building to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) and diesel particulate matter (PM) emissions.
“I’ve never spent more time on a rule than this one,” said Cacciotti before casting a yes vote. “I’ve listened to the arguments of those who oppose the rule. And I’ve listened to supporters who want it done now with a more stringent rule. We need more zero emission (trucks). Once we get electric trucks, battery technology and better storage systems, charging stations, we’re going to be creating jobs left and right. We’re not here to fight, we’re here as an agency to save jobs. They’re not going away, they’re here! There so many health benefits with this rule. We have so many adults and kids – tens of thousands – that are suffering from asthma for those who live near these warehouses. We have a watershed moment in our air district history. We all have a moral and social responsibility to respond to serious health and environmental impacts of polluting diesel trucks going to warehouses in our region.”
More than 130 people provided testimony either in support or against the rule during public comment of Friday’s AQMD’s monthly governing board meeting. By a wide margin, most of the speakers strongly supported the ISR.
“From the beginning of the board’s discussions about this rule, I have promised all parties that I would be open to all viewpoints and make my decision based on the facts, the impacts on business and jobs, and the impacts on the communities that surround these warehouses,” wrote Cacciotti in his AQMD quarterly newsletter that reaches out to the 34 eastern cities in the San Gabriel Valley he represents.
The final vote earned the praise from activists and environmental groups, but organizations pushing no to the rule said the SCAQMD board’s action would not be effective, lead to the elimination of jobs and hurt the region’s economy.
Cacciotti recognizes there has been a tremendous rise in the number of distribution warehouses in Eastern Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, many receiving goods from all parts of the world that ultimately wind up on doorsteps of homes.
While he knows the increase in the number of warehouses has created more jobs, he noted they have also brought communities new sources of harmful truck emissions endangering the health and quality of life of its residents.
Rule 2305 will establish the Warehouse Actions and Investments to Reduce Emissions (WAIRE) Program, applying to owners and operators of larger warehouses in the South Coast Air Basin. It regulates the emissions from truck travel to-and-from large warehouses in AQMD’s jurisdiction, including portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and all of Orange County in an effort to improve ozone and particulate matter levels throughout the region.
With its passage, warehouse operators will earn WAIRE points from emission-reducing activities or be subjected to mitigation fees based on the total NOX and PM10 emissions. SCAQMD officials say points are accumulated by actions completed that include, among a list, the use of natural gas, solar panels or electric charging and zero and near-zero fueling infrastructure.
Warehouse operators not following the rule can choose to pay a mitigation fee, which the SCAQMD said will be used to incentivize the purchase of cleaner trucks and charging/fueling infrastructure in surrounding communities.
Cacciotti, an AQMD board member since 2008, said he carefully examined a 153-page preliminary draft staff report on the issue prior to Friday’s meeting. He patiently sat through the lengthy testimony before voting on one of the most controversial rules ever coming before the agency. Now that the long day is over and critical vote behind him, he’s encouraged that the warehouse rule is expected to reduce smog-forming emissions by 10-15 percent from warehouse-related sources.
Over the past four years, the rule was developed through extensive research and meetings with environmental justice groups, regulated industry and government agencies. Beginning with mega warehouses the program will be phased in over the next three years.
“About half of the air pollutants that contribute to smog come from the goods movement industry, with the largest source being heavy-duty trucks heading to warehouses across Southern California,” said Wayne Nastri, South Coast AQMD’s executive officer. “After many years of development, today’s adoption of the warehouse rule is a major step towards reducing air pollution and protecting the millions of people directly impacted by this type of pollution.”