Near-zero emission (NZE) heavy-duty natural gas vehicles may be one of the beneficiaries of the latest air quality rules established by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which covers the four-county greater Los Angeles Basin and its population of 17 million.

Described as a clean air blueprint for the region, the plan calls for stringent regulations combined with incentives to provide cleaner air through voluntary actions. It was approved on a 11-2 vote of the board, 10 of whose members are local elected officials from the four counties.

Major sources of ozone, or Southern California’s notorious smog, such as refineries, rail yards, the region’s Long Beach and Los Angeles ports that combined are the nation’s busiest, warehouses and other major sources are targeted for voluntary emission reductions. Alternative-fueled vehicles and equipment have long been the focus ofelected and port officialsas a major way to cut emissions.

SCAQMD avoids specific mandates on mobile sources of air pollution because they fall under statewide and federal regulatory jurisdictions. Two dissenting members opposed the plan because of amendments they argued are in conflict with federal jurisdiction, such as a proposed mandate at airports to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulates from sources other than planes.

SCAQMD executive officer Wayne Nastri called the new plan “sensible, comprehensive and a regulatory approach that will improve the health and lives of all residents” spread across Orange, and portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Nastri pointed to “extensive public participation” in the process leading up to last Friday’s action.

Among the amendments added at the board meeting was one calling for SCAQMD to seek state legislative authority to accelerate purchase of near-zero and zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles for public agency fleets, including natural gas vehicles (NGV).

A separate amendment calls for “incentive funding” for heavy-duty vehicles for what SCAQMD called “the most cost-effective technologies available in the short-term,” specifically citing the NZE natural gas engines now entering the commercial market.

The plan also calls for “accelerating emission reductions” at the region’s largest sources of air pollution, including oil refineries, by achieving a five ton/day reduction of NOx “as soon as feasible or no later than 2025.”

Regarding commercial airports throughout the region, of which there are many in addition to the major ones in Los Angeles, Orange County, Burbank, Ontario, and Long Beach, the plan calls for SCAQMD to undertake a stakeholder process and create a draft rule proposal for consideration by Feb. 1, 2019 to reduce emissions from non-aircraft sources at the airports.

While the regional board indicated that emissions have dropped significantly over the years, the new plan is aimed at further reducing smog-forming NOx by 45% in 2023 from current levels. “The plan also shows how the region can accomplish an additional 10% reduction to meet a more stringent ozone standard by 2031,” a SCAQMD spokesperson said.

While citing area businesses for reducing pollution from vehicles by more than 90% over the past generation, Nastri acknowledged that the “easy pollution solutions” were put in place decades ago. “That is why moving forward we need stringent regulations as well as financial incentives to transform our cars, our homes, our businesses and our goods movement to zero- or near-zero emissions in just a few short years.”

What the new plan calls for is another 35% emissions reduction from major sources like refineries on top of a 45% target established less than two years ago; zero-emission or near-zero technologies everywhere in place of backup diesel generators; and NOx emission cuts from non-refinery flares at landfills and elsewhere, and at oil/gas extraction sites.