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Air Quality

Councilmember Nithya Raman Appointed to So Cal Air Quality Board

Port tanker traffic worsening Southern California air quality. Photo by Brian Addison/LongBeachIze

Today, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed City Councilmember Nithya Raman to the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). Raman replaces Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who has served on the AQMD board since 2013.

In a press statement, Garcetti credited Raman's commitment "to combat the climate crisis, protect public health, and pursue environmental justice."

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve on the AQMD Board – one of the most critical tools we have in Los Angeles for mitigating the effects of climate change,” said Councilmember Raman. “I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on the Board to work to ensure that everyone in the South Coast region has healthy, clean air to breathe and that our ports become models for twenty-first century shipping that center environmental sustainability and environmental justice in their operations.”

The AQMD has pretty much never been a hotbed for effective environmental regulation. From its suburban Diamond Bar headquarters, the District has presided over worsening regional air quality in recent decades. One telling example of how out of touch many on the AQMD board have become is that, at a 2019 meeting, the longest-serving boardmember and then-chair William Burke was vocally dismissive of taking transit to the airport. Burke has since retired, and the AQMD board is now chaired by Ben Benoit, Mayor of the city of Wildomar in San Bernardino County.

The District is responsible for regulating air pollution issues across four counties: Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino. As happens with broad regional bodies - including the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and Metro, representation on the AQMD board skews suburban. Many suburban representatives favor minimizing impacts to businesses, even at the expense of public health. As such, the agency's leadership has favored minor technological fixes that are good for the air, but can allow an unhealthy status quo to continue. This isn't to say AQMD does nothing, but its more effective regulatory victories - including new warehouse pollution rules adopted last year - are few and far between.

For many years, AQMD ran important Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs to ensure large employers promoted employee use of clean air commuting modes. Though this program still exists, the AQMD retooled it so most large employers now just pay a fee in lieu of actually encouraging sustainable transportation.

AQMD primarily regulates point source pollution - think factories (and ports) - but not more spread-out non point source pollution, including cars. Without a great deal of jurisdiction to curb tailpipe emissions - and with the state (Caltrans) and other regional players (Metro, SCAG, counties, cities, etc.) hell-bent on widening freeways, ramps, roads, bridges, parking lots - Southern California air pollution goes from bad to worse, disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color that already faced tremendous burdens.

Raman is among the most progressive members of the L.A. City Council. Though she becomes one of thirteen boardmembers, her presence at AQMD should help to steer the agency toward a more just, more environmentally-friendly direction. Southern California air could sure use that.

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