When California Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) was signed into law, California ambitiously announced a new “community focused” strategy to improve air quality in California. AB 617’s stated goal is to improve air quality in environmental justice communities through local, community-specific strategies focused on the individual needs and issues particular to each community. The development and implementation of this “community focused” strategy is largely the responsibility of California’s local air quality management districts (AQMDs) because AB 617 places new, explicit responsibilities on AQMDs so that they take the lead in improving the air quality in their environmental justice communities.

The legislation relies heavily on local communities and AQMDs to achieve the goal of AB 617. The three main ways that AB 617 seeks to improve air quality in environmental justice communities is by having AQMDs: (1) adopt an expedited schedule for implementation of best available retrofit control technology (BARCT) requirements; (2) deploy community air monitoring systems in certain identified communities; and (3) implement plans to reduce emissions in those identified communities. While the California Air Resources Board (CARB) decides which communities will be included in the Community Air Protection Program (CAPP), and are therefore subject to AB 617’s community air monitoring system or community emissions reduction plan requirements, CARB will rely on recommendations from AQMDs and the public to identify which communities should be selected for the CAPP. Thus, the decision of who should be regulated is heavily influenced by the AQMDs and local stakeholders. And, AB 617 specifically provides funding for local community groups and AQMDs to participate in the community identification process.

The law is particularly ambitious because AB 617’s implementation timeline provides AQMDs with a short timeframe to develop and apply tailored strategies to improve air quality in their communities. The timeline for key events is:

  • April 30, 2018 – Deadline for AQMDs to submit to CARB a preliminary list of initial communities in their jurisdiction that they recommend CARB consider including in the CAPP;
  • July 31, 2018 – Deadline for AQMDs to submit to CARB a final list of initial communities in their jurisdiction that they recommend CARB consider including in the CAPP;
  • October 1, 2018 – Deadline for CARB to select the initial list of communities that will be included in the CAPP;
  • July 1, 2019 – Deadline for AQMDs to develop air monitoring plans for the CAPP selected communities in their jurisdiction;
  • July 1, 2020 – Deadline for AQMDs to develop emissions reduction plans for the CAPP selected communities in their jurisdiction;
  • December 31, 2023 – Deadline for AQMDs to fully implement BARCT.

It is important to note that CARB must select new communities for inclusion in the CAPP each year. For any communities included in the CAPP after October 1, 2018, AQMDs will have a similar two year timeframe to develop the air monitoring and emissions reduction plans for these subsequently selected communities.

There is no minimum or maximum number of communities that CARB must select for inclusion in the CAPP by October 1, 2018, or in each subsequent year. And, CARB has not yet indicated an ideal number of communities they hope to include in the CAPP each year. However, AQMDs have indicated that the number of selected communities will be heavily-dependent on their resources to implement AB 617.

The “community-focused” strategy that the legislature envisioned is, so far, being fulfilled in the early stages of AB 617’s implementation. The early documents released by CARB and CARB’s early public comments discussing the implementation of AB 617 emphasize two areas of local focus: (1) the responsibility that the AQMDs have over the implementation of AB 617; and (2) the role that local communities and AQMDs have in identifying communities for inclusion in the CAPP. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, along with other AQMDs, spoke at the March 2018 CARB Board Meeting to update the CARB Board on their implementation of AB 617, indicating, among other things, that it, along with other AQMDs, has already begun community listening sessions for feedback on how to implement AB 617.

AB 617’s effect on businesses in California will vary depending on where the business is located. If applicable, businesses will be regulated by the new BARCT rule that their AQMD adopts. If a business is situated in a community selected for the CAPP, it could also be subject to additional new regulations as part of any emissions reduction plan established by its AQMD for the CAPP selected community. But, that same business could also have no new regulations despite being located in the CAPP selected community if the AQMD’s emissions reduction plan for the community does not place new regulations on the business. Of course, if the business is not located in a community selected for the CAPP, there will be no AB 617 emissions reduction plan with which it must comply and the business will only need to review if its AQMD’s new BARCT rule applies.

While AB 617 is still in the early phases of implementation, we already know that it places a lot of responsibility on local communities and California’s AQMDs to achieve its goal of improving air quality in environmental justice communities. Because CARB will select new communities to be included in the CAPP each year, the implementation of AB 617, and the AQMDs’ actions to do so, will be an evolving process and one to watch well beyond 2018.