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Clean Air Is Important, But So Are Jobs

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

On December 7, members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board of Directors (AQMD) voted to approve its 2012 Air Quality Management Plan (“clean air plan”).  These clean air plans are updated periodically in order to address new federal clean air rules for Southern California. Over the last 20 years, the South Coast Basin has seen remarkable improvements in air quality, even as the region’s population has doubled.  But new government requirements are always developed and standards for clean air get tougher every year, despite the good progress. Further, government doesn’t always remember to balance ever-new more stringent environmental rules against the costs small businesses must bear to stay in business in a tough economy.

Thus, as part of the development process, OCBC helped lead a coalition of over 30 southern California business groups to advocate for a clean air plan that would not only meet all federal requirements, but would do so without imposing undue regulations that strain a fragile economic recovery.  Just last week, economists from six counties convened at the Southern California Association of Governments’ Third Annual Economic Summit and found that the region’s recovery is likely delayed to 2020, and that 900,000 new jobs are needed to return to 2007 jobs levels.

That’s a lot of folks still unemployed or underemployed.  And a lot of businesses waiting to grow or hire in a state with the heaviest regulatory burden in the nation.

Therefore, it is imperative that any new regulations be cost-sensitive and not hamper the ability to create jobs and grow the economy.  For example, does cleaner air mean that local restaurants will be banned from using char broilers? This is why the law requires that the clean air plan include an economic impact analysis on the effect the plan might have on all of us and the local businesses we patronize.  We also need to look at how these new regulations impact our personal freedoms.  Will the use of home fireplaces become so regulated that we wouldn’t even be allowed to use them on Christmas morning?

One of the business community’s primary concerns with the 2012 plan was the fact that many of the assumptions regarding its economic impact on businesses were based on a flawed analysis, completed without any input whatsoever from those who would be affected. In voicing its concerns with both AQMD staff and board, business advocated for a more inclusive process going forward when it comes to working on these issues.

Last week, OCBC and its business coalition members asked AQMD to approve part of its proposed air plan, but delay a part of the proposed plan not yet required by federal law and for which the rules were vague. Delay would have given business just a bit more time to work under the old rules before the new rules set in. However, AQMD disagreed and approved both parts of the plan, but, to its credit, recognized the flaws of the current engagement process, the economic study, and committed to implement systemic changes when it comes to including the business community.

At the end of the day, OCBC contends that meeting federal clean air requirements should and can occur without imposing costly new regulations that strain a fragile economic recovery. Going forward, it is critical that business members work together united, stay engaged with AQMD, hold them to the commitment, and set a solid example that clean air and economic recovery are not mutually exclusive.

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