Board of Supervisors unanimously approves launching an air quality study

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors took the first steps on Wednesday toward putting a plan in place to reduce toxic air pollution.

The board voted unanimously to direct the county Air Pollution Control District to study the current toxic air pollutant threshold, and return with a proposed rule no later than April 2020 for possible approval.

According to the proposal sponsored by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the APCD will also work with industry and community partners. Fletcher said the county has an opportunity to set a new standard, “and go further in protecting the public health of our residents.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that we measure the severity of toxic materials based on how many people will be exposed to cancers,” Fletcher said, adding the county has the least amount of protections in place.

As of now, the county has an air pollution threshold that’s 10 times the average, while other regional governments have better standards, Fletcher said. According to Fletcher’s office, the county has an allowable threshold for toxic hot spots of 100 cancers per million people.

County residents, along with representatives from Climate Action, the Port of San Diego and Service Employees International Union 221, spoke in favor of stricter air quality standards.

Joy Williams, research director with the Environmental Health Coalition, told the board that certain communities have more than their share of toxic air facilities, and that the new proposal allows for new rules to be developed in a transparent manner.

Jack Monger, CEO of the Industrial Environmental Association, said his group was also supportive but has concerns, including misleading expectations. Monger said that as a cancer survivor, he wants to see real steps taken to reduce the threat of that disease and that includes looking at mobile sources. Monger urged the county to seek state support on air emissions risks, while ensuring that the county’s businesses permit process not be slowed.

Lori Haase, who serves as an industry representative on an APCD advisory board, suggested that Fletcher amend his proposal. She said what works in one region may not work in San Diego County.

Haase said the county already has air pollution regulations in place and the wrong type of regulation could stop industries from coming to the San Diego region, while not improving health. She added that the board needs consider science and cost-effectiveness.

Other speakers said the board needs to also focus on the dangers of second-hand smoke, including from marijuana and vaping.

Fletcher said there will be a robust process, including socio-economic research and public workshops, before supervisors vote on any formal regulations. He added that as a state Air Resources Board member, he also is working on better air quality polices — but that board, for example, cannot determine where roads are built.

Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristen Gaspar expressed concerns about how new regulations might affect business and the permitting process. Robert Kard, director of the county APCD, said his office will work on a plan without slowing down business permits.

Desmond stressed that there needs to be more options and analysis before the board votes on a final plan. He added that the main goal should be to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, as emissions are a major cause of air pollution.

Supervisor Greg Cox said the best thing the county can do is “bring everybody to the table” in crafting a plan.

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