June 27, 2016 - From the June, 2016 issue

New Leadership at South Coast AQMD: Wayne Nastri Back as Executive Officer

Wayne Nastri was unanimously approved as acting executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District in April. A former administrator in the US EPA and president of environmental consulting firm E4 Strategic Solutions, Nastri’s selection signifies the Board’s continuing commitment to fighting pollution after the departure of longtime leader Barry Wallerstein. In this interview with TPR, Nastri shares his plan to increase transparency throughout the agency, and to expand its scope to include collaborating with regional, state, and national partners. 


Wayne Nastri

“We’re looking for the monetary resources that would enable us to issue incentives for replacing older, more polluting vehicles with newer, zero- or near-zero-emission vehicles.” —Wayne Nastri

Unanimously approved as acting executive officer for SCAQMD in April, you’re now responsible for implementing programs and regulations to meet federal and state clean air mandates. What priorities have you focused immediately upon?

Wayne Nastri: My first tasks have been to assess the organization and to figure out where things stand, and I think I’ve been able to do that. 

The District’s biggest priority is to complete the 2016 Air Quality Management Plan by year’s end. The AQMP focuses to a large extent on incentives. We need to acquire the resources to assure EPA, which will review the plan, that it is approvable. We’re looking at acquiring additional resources at the federal and state levels. We also recently submitted a petition to EPA, in conjunction with a number of states and local governments, to create a tougher nationwide tailpipe emissions standard for large trucks. We are petitioning to make the standard 10 times more stringent than the current limit.  We’re now reaching out to other states, as well as to industry and NGOs, to get support for that petition, and I’m going on a delegation to Washington, DC to meet with the White House and members of Congress.

Elaborate on this SCAQMD petition to EPA. What state and local governments will be in the delegation traveling to Washington and what will be the message delivered?

We’re asking the White House to support our petition, and to make that position clear to EPA. The petition asks EPA to initiate a national rule-making effort regarding the development of an ultra-low emissions standard for on-road heavy-duty truck engines. 

The petition also requires new truck engines to meet the ultra-low standard by January 1, 2022, and asks for the development of guidelines under the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act to provide incentives to truck owners to upgrade from a truck meeting the current 2010 NOx engine standard to a cleaner truck meeting the ultra-low NOx engine standard. 

We know it will be a multiyear effort, and we want to begin it now, because it is going to be so critical for us to achieve the 2023 and 2031 attainment standards. This is about more than just the South Coast. In DC, we’ll highlight that the initiative would benefit not just California, but the rest of the nation as well. In fact, these co-benefits have been the main driver in getting other states and regions to sign on to the petition. We’re working with the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management—an association of the eight northeastern states— the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, and various states including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and the State of Washington. It is truly historic that the South Coast Air Quality Management District has been able to reach out to all these other groups.

Elaborate on SCAQMD needs and the resources you’re seeking at the federal and state levels, and from the private sector.

By resources, I mean financing. We’re looking for the monetary resources that would enable us to issue incentives for replacing older, more polluting vehicles with newer, zero- or near-zero-emission vehicles. At the federal level, we’re looking at some of the mechanisms available to do that—whether it’s enhanced funding or a new mechanism. At the state level, we’re working to increase awareness of the co-benefits associated with greenhouse gas reductions. We’re also looking at the connection between reducing greenhouse gases and reducing criteria (smog-forming) pollutants. That way we can meet our immediate needs, in terms of acute health effects to the public, as well as some of our long-term needs that result from climate change.

Are there more opportunities today to secure resources from the State than from the federal government?

In general, yes. California has a very strong leadership role on the environment, and its past efforts on greenhouse gases have been very substantial. We want to tap into those efforts, and tie them directly into achieving the criteria pollutant reduction benefits that we also need. But there’s also a good argument to be made for seeking federal resources, particularly with regard to investment and deployment of clean air technologies.

The federal government has a very good history of addressing contaminated environmental media. We’ve invested in clean water and in cleaning up our soil, and now we need to make that same investment in clean air. That’s something we hope to highlight in DC, in addition to the petition. Nationally, SCAQMD is working on tailpipe emission standards for large trucks. At the regional level, there’s also the Sustainable Freight Strategy initiative. 

Address the reasons for SCAQMD’s focus on freight and trucks.

The reason we’ve had such a large focus on goods movement and trucks is that 80 percent of the NOx that we deal with comes from those sources.Because we have very limited authority on those types of sources, we work closely with CARB to develop and deploy new engine technologies, and to demonstrate their viability and reliability. 

Our approach is similar with regard to freight and port programs. Even though we don’t have primary authority over these sectors, we do have the ability to greatly impact them.We’re focused on zero- and near-zero-emission technologies, including all the different technologies that are out there—battery electric, fuel cells, natural gas, hybrids, etc. We are working with low-emission and zero-emission truck engine manufacturers, like BYD and Volvo. 

We want to demonstrate goods movement that is efficient in terms of both the emissions profile and the time requirement—for example, by expanding the Interstate 710 to accommodate dedicated truck lanes, then putting near-zero-emission trucks on the road. We’re trying to provide incentives through things that we can do on the ground and things that we can do with the trucks themselves. 

In terms of freight and goods movement, we’ve worked closely with the ports on supply-chain optimization and enhanced transportation modes.In doing so, we’re accelerating the development and application of these technologies, and their entry into the marketplace.

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What are some of the internal changes you’re making to the SCAQMD?

We’ve heard a lot about the need for transparency, and it’s one of the big things that we’re addressing. We’re asking ourselves: How can we develop a transparency policy that gives the public confidence that there aren’t underground regulations and procedures?In particular, we’re looking at the speed with which information is available to our board members, the general public, regulated industries, and NGOs. One of the first requests from the board was the timely deliverance of board packets and technical information, in order to allow board members to review the topics at hand before a meeting, as well as to give the public access to this information prior to meetings.

In response, we’ve instituted a policy wherein all meeting agendas are provided to the committee and posted online one week in advance of the actual meeting. That’s had a tremendous impact on people’s ability to review information and to feel more confident that we are operating in a transparent manner. Thus far, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback.I’ve also been reviewing our organizational efficiency, and will soon have a series of recommendations that can be acted upon. 

One final change is getting everybody to work together and to be excited about the work we’re doing. Developing the national petition, working with the White House, working with Congress—the District has not done this type of thing to the extent that we are now.There’s always been recognition that the work we do is important, but there’s a palpable difference now with the realization of all the other audiences we can target. Now we’re entering the stage of developing partnerships with other states and local organizations, and working in collaboration. There’s a lot of good energy, and we’re going to be pushing ahead on many of those issues.

What is the SCAQMD’s role, if any, in dealing with the Aliso Canyon crisis and coming up with a strategy to manage natural gas storage in the region?

We’re working with state departments, including DOGGR and CARB, to create new monitoring protocols and find the resources to provide new monitoring capabilities.CARB is looking at natural gas storage issues, and EPA recently released their oil and gas regulations. Both of these agencies focus on monitoring and reporting. We are developing rules for the oil and gas industry that will work in synergy with the state’s efforts.We’re also evaluating our monitoring efficiency and how we handle the volume of data we collect. One challenge is that in the past, the District focused on criteria pollutants and not necessarily as much on greenhouse gases. 

But we found at Aliso Canyon that additional compounds, such as mercaptan and benzene, were released during the natural gas leak.  Going forward, we have to make sure that we’re monitoring everything being released, and ensure our actions on criteria pollutants overlap and coincide with action on greenhouse gases. There are also a lot of things we can do working jointly with natural gas companies, in terms of storage and utilization.

Renewable natural gas has been a topic that South Coast has championed. Can you give us some background on how the South Coast incentivizes businesses and individuals to move toward renewable natural gas?

When you look at renewable natural gas, you’re looking mainly at biogas. There are a number of facilities, whether they’re wastewater treatment plants or landfills, which actually utilize that natural gas onsite for some of their direct energy needs or other local energy needs.  In addition, we can get biogas from these stationary sources into the transportation sector through financial incentives. What we really want is to get the transportation industry to zero- and near-zero-emission vehicles, and biogas provides a good fuel source for fuel cells in terms of lower carbon emissions on the way to achieving that goal. 

What’s exciting about renewable gas is that it not only has a low-carbon impact, but also that it eliminates range anxiety and reduces the time it takes to refuel vehicles. I drive a fuel cell Toyota Mirai right now. It takes me five minutes max to refuel with hydrogen, and I have up to a 300-mile range. I love it. In the light-duty sector, other fuel cell vehicles are already out there, like the Hyundai Tucson, and more are coming out, including the Honda Clarity.

Ultimately, we know that we’re going to have a mix of battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles. It’s incumbent upon us to create as many options as possible for zero- and near-zero-emission vehicles so we can clean up our air.

In closing, you briefly served in the 90’s on the board of SCAQMD as an appointee of Pete Wilson. Share with our readers your take on the progress that’s been made regarding air quality in this region over the past two decades?

Unless you’ve been around for some time, it can be hard to appreciate the magnitude of clean air successes we’ve had over the last few decades. The easiest way to do it is to look out the window. At the moment, I can see the San Gabriel Mountains. I can tell you right now that 20 years ago, that would not have been the case. What this agency has done in that time is really remarkable. When I was on the board, we were talking about natural gas as a bridge technology. Fuel cell technology was still way out there. 

By investing in and demonstrating technologies, the District has truly accelerated technological developments focused on zero- and near-zero-emission profiles. That has driven the economy, job growth, and public health benefits.  Our ability to shape the investment environment for clean technology has had a tremendous benefit, not just for this region, but also for the entire nation. 

Today there are whole industries devoted to fuel cell deployment, to heavy-duty electric vehicles, to light-duty vehicles, to electrical connections and rapid charging, to the building of the infrastructure. In terms of where we were 20 years ago to where we are now, it’s night and day.  The challenge before us now is to make another night-and-day transformation in order to meet our 2023 and 2031 clean air standards. We can certainly look to our past to see how our ongoing investments have yielded the clean air benefits that we enjoy today.

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.