May 5, 2004 - From the February, 2003 issue

David Allgood Opines On Clean Air, Clean Car Engines & Green Politics In California

David Allgood is a man who wears many hats within the enviromental community. He is the Southern California Director of the League of Conservation Voters. He is the chairman of the board of directors for the Coalition for Clean Air. He was a member of Speaker Villaraigosa's Commission on State/Local Government Finance. He also sits in on the California Coastal Commission. MIR is pleased to present this interview with David Allgood in which he discusses current events in state environmental policy.

David Allgood

David, let's begin by having you give our readers an overview, as we begin 2003, of what the priorities and agenda are for the California League of Conservation Voters.

Everybody is focused on the budget crisis, and rightly so, because it's huge. We are essentially going to the Legislature and to the governor and asking both to relieve pressure on the general fund-which is paid by all the tax-payers. We also are asking many of the regulatory agencies to turn to fee-based support to accomplish their missions. We have a situation where in a variety of areas-pesticides, water pollution, and other areas-the cost of enforcement and regulation and clean-up is borne by the taxpayers and not by the folks I like to call "the perpetrators." The mill fee for pesticide regulation, for instance, is low not fully funding the Department of Pesticide Regulation. An increase in a mill fee could offset the general funds that are allocated for that regulation and it would be borne by the people who use the product and the manufacturers. So we're looking for those kinds of opportunities in the budget to allay the burden on the general fund, provide additional funds to adequately enforce the environmental regulations, and give them some long-term stability.

Four years ago, you served on Speaker Villaraigosa's State/Local Fiscal Reform Commission. That blue-ribbon commission agreed upon a number of recommendations that might have mitigated the negative effects of today's budget crisis on local government, but not much in the way of reforms were adopted by the Legislature. With Steve Peace as the governor's director of finance, is there any hope for the Legislature to restructure our state's dysfunctional fiscal system?

Well, I think it's too soon to tell what impact Steve Peace will have. When I was on the Commission, it struck me that our tax structure in California could have been better designed by monkeys. Until the tax structure is rationalized and until we have the ability to pass budgets by simple majority, the promise of substantial change seems more remote. The minority party, in this case, has consistently voted against every budget through the last decade and there's no reason to believe that they're going to be cooperative in the future. That's one of the reasons why the Republicans are so marginalized-they don't offer programs, only obstruction.

Are environmental movement organizations knowledgeable about the role of the annual budget and the influence of the fiscal rules of the state on environmental policy?

Both at the Coalition for Clean Air and at the League of Conservation Voters, we are doing our best to inform our membership the huge role the budget plays on enforcement and clean up of the environment. In fact, both the Coalition and the CLCV are parties to a current report called "The Green Watchdog 2003" that addresses those issues. It's in pre-publication form, but it'll be made available to all our members soon. We're working with other groups up in Sacramento to get the word out that the folks that profit from polluting the environment are going to have to reinvest some of those profits and clean up the messes they make.

David, the Coalition for Clean Air, of which you are the chair, recently won a victory with SCAQMD, with the latter voting to limit and ultimately ban ‘perc' in dry-cleaning. Tell our readers about that decision, what led to it and its consequences.

It's been known for a long time that perc is inherently dangerous. What has come to attention more recently is that despite AQMD's tightening up on handling practices, it's getting out into the air and water. Of course, perc also enters the home on clothes that are dry-cleaned. We felt that since there are alternative means available that are as good as and as cheap as dry-cleaning, the time had come to eliminate the use of perc.

The ruling, as it stands, allows time and some money for converting over to other dry-cleaning means. There's wet cleaning and two or three other much less toxic alternatives available. The life cycle of the cleaning equipment is about 10 years. In the natural course of that time frame, the ruling will allow for individual dry-cleaners to make the transition over to wet cleaning or other means. In some cases, the new equipment is comparably priced-the operating costs are less. With each of the methods, there is a slight labor differential, but it is not out of line with current labor costs.

Changing subjects, the LADWP announced its plans to build a new bank of windmills to supplement the city's power supply. How do you view and evaluate Los Angeles' DWP's efforts to adopt more renewable energy sources?

The proposed windmill farm is an excellent first step. However, Los Angeles and the DWP are way behind the curve compared to the rest of the state. The state has basically set a goal of 20-percent renewable energy-Los Angeles is at two-percent. I think it's ironic that we get so much of our energy here in Southern California from coal-fired plants that are highly polluting. They just have to be out of the air basin because they wouldn't be tolerated here. We need to move more to solar and to wind and the numbers show that that's both reliable and increasingly competitive with fossil fuel-fired plants.

We need a commitment- a much stronger commitment-out of LADWP not just on energy, but also on water conservation. The DWP still is under pressure at Mono Lake and at Owens Dry Lake to provide more water. And, there are a lot of potential savings in changing the way we irrigate and the way we plant, both on public and private properties here in Southern California. I hold out hope that the new director of LADWP will make a stronger effort to pull in ideas on how to more carefully husband these precious resources.

David, another hat you wear is as a member of the California Coastal Commission. Comment, if you could, on the Commission's current legal status, new court decisions of note, and the Commission's leadership.

The happy news, from an environmental perspective, is Mike Reilly is an excellent choice to be Chair of the Commission. Certainly, the brouhaha around the re-election of the old chair was badly handled by all sides. It became personalized and should have focused on policies. The Coastal Commission is, from whatever point of view, neither as bad as people think it is, nor is it as good as people think it is. It's a commission made up of human beings that have to make tough decisions based on a variety of requirements in the Coastal Act. The last couple of meetings have been much more congenial from my seat on the dais.


I'm concerned with the court decision that's now in front of the state Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Commission. I'm told, based on the proposed fix now currently moving through the Legislature, that the problem should be solved. But I also have heard from other attorneys that this fix may not be enough, so that's going to be very interesting to watch. The Commission itself had a lot on its plate over the last couple of years, particularly with Malibu being forced to come up with a local coastal program (LCP) of its own after the Legislature tired of all of the over-the-top lobbying they were getting from all sides over Malibu issues. Once Malibu actually starts doing the permitting process, the burden on the Coastal Commission will be greatly reduced. We spend about a quarter of our time on Malibu alone and, of course, it's a much bigger state than just Malibu.

Elaborate on Malibu's current relationship with the Coastal Commission.

Well, I cannot speak for the people in Malibu. But, Malibu recently held a referendum basically rejecting the local coastal program and the City of Malibu is currently not issuing or taking permits. So in the absence of that activity, I assume they have a moratorium on building in Malibu because they are not coming to the Coastal Commission. We're getting some permits that were filed prior to the acceptance of the LCP by the Commission, but it'll be very interesting to see how it all turns out. Of course, there's litigation involved with that, too.

Are Coastal Commission decisions being made while you await a judicial determination of the Commission's legal status?

Yes, the work continues as always. At least through the decision by the Court of Appeals, it seems that all of our decisions will stand. But in the absence of a fix, and in the absence of a final decision by the Supreme Court, work continues as normal.

SUVs are making news and environmentalists are scoring some points. Where do you stand on the issue of SUVs and fuel efficiency?

Well, SUVs are an interesting target for some people in the environmental community. They are large and wasteful of fossil fuel resources, but demonizing the owners of SUVs is probably inappropriate-many of those folks would be natural allies for the environmental community. Frankly, I put it to the manufacturers to make safer and more fuel efficient SUVs. The federal regulations that allow what are clearly family-operated vehicles to be treated as trucks and exempt from the safety and air pollution standards applied to cars was a huge mistake. I worry for the American car manufacturers, because they don't seem to be able to manufacture cars that appeal to people. The bulk of their sales, and certainly the bulk of their profits, are coming from trucks and SUVs-that's just not sustainable.

Also, we appear to be in the middle of an SUV craze. Like all trends, this one will ebb. When people go back to more sensible transportation, Detroit's going to be in something of a pickle. The basic problem with SUVs, besides their poor safety record, is that they are second-tier technology-they aren't as clean or efficient as cars, and there's no reason in the world why they couldn't be. You know, a Lincoln Towncar weighs as much as a typical SUV but gets better mileage and puts out a lot less pollution.

Let's segue from SUVs to a story that appeared in the New York Times recently called "A Green Car That the Energy Industry Loves" discussing President Bush's new initiative for fuel-cell research. The article notes that Bush's "new initiative for fuel-cell research is not as Birkenstock-friendly as it might seem. In fact, the proposal, which will cost $1.2 billion over five years, could do much to benefit the fossil-fuel and nuclear power industries." What's your take on the President's State of the Union speech and his focus on hydrogen energy?

Well, the focus on hydrogen was a distraction. First, he's looking ten years out. The evidence that we've seen to date from this administration is that they have no desire to protect the environment. If you look at what's happened with the "new source review" and myriad other environmental regulations that have been rolled back or eliminated, clearly environmental protection is not foremost in their minds. I would love to see us go to a hydrogen fuel economy. But, it's going to cost a lot more than a couple billion dollars a year. There's a huge infrastructure to replace and the technology is not yet mature, but getting very close. If we are serious, it will take a serious focus to clean up the environment, to create a stable and domestic energy system that's free from foreign manipulation. I just don't see that coming out of this White House. And it's rather interesting to me that where they had an opportunity to really do a lot to clean the air on the "new source review" for power plants, they are leaving it up to the volunteerism of industry, who of course are their biggest supporters.

Let's close with this last question, David. Term limits clearly has changed the face of the Legislature. To which members of the Legislature do you now look to be bill authors on environmental matters?

In Burton and Wesson, as chief deputies of the Assembly and Senate, we have a real commitment to protect the environment. The budget problem is going to be a function of trying to rationalize the tax structure to stop the boom and bust cycles. As I heard Governor Davis comment, in good years the money gets spent, which raises expectations. Then, in the lean years, those expectations are dashed. The rationalization of the tax structure is one of the most important fights that the Legislature and the governor face together. And frankly, I don't see a resolution to it. But, there are better minds than mine working on it.

From an environmental perspective, through rationalizing the fees to date for pollution and regulation and monitoring and clean up, we've got a way to stabilize environmental protection at current levels and actually make it better both in the near-term and in the long-term. The public has always supported tough enforcement of regulations to protect their health and protect the environment, and we have an opportunity this year through ‘polluter pays' principles to achieve a lot and to achieve a lot for a long time.


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