The implementation of California’s ambitious Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) is well under way, but it is still very uncertain whether it can or will achieve its intended outcome. Despite the long process to select the initial list of communities to be included in the in the first year of CARB’s Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) (CARB’s AB 617 implementation program), the hard work to ensure AB 617 is a success remains—namely the development and implementation of the emissions monitoring/reduction plans in the selected disadvantaged communities. In the end, the biggest impediment to AB 617’s successful implementation might be the law’s own requirements, specifically its accelerated implementation schedule, which may not provide California’s air quality management districts (air districts) with enough time to achieve the law’s goals.

On September 27, 2018, at its monthly meeting, the California Air Resources Board (Board) voted to select the initial set of ten communities to be included in year one of the CAPP. The Board also approved documents related to the program, including the program’s guidelines and final environmental analysis. This vote determined which local air districts, in the next year, need to develop an emissions monitoring plan, emissions reduction plan or both. Additionally, the Board covered:

  1. A CAPP selected community’s boundary is still in flux and will be set after the relevant air district forms a community steering committee and consults with the committee;
  2. While to-be-affected businesses can be members of a community steering committee, a majority of a community steering committee’s members are to be community residents;
  3. CARB voted to require certain air districts to immediately develop emissions reduction plans applicable to certain communities where sufficient information on pollution sources affecting those communities exists;
  4. In communities for which only an emissions monitoring plan is to be developed this year, it is expected that those communities will develop an emissions reduction plan within the next year; and
  5. The Board would like emissions reduction plans to acknowledge land use concerns within the selected communities.

Thus, with its vote on September 27, 2018, the air districts’ one year clock to develop the required emissions monitoring/reduction program began ticking down. But, when looking at everything the air district must accomplish in that year (developing the emissions monitoring/reduction plans, establishing steering committees, determining community boundaries, etc.), it is unclear that they will be able to meet the deadline while also satisfactorily meeting AB 617, CARB and the selected communities’ emissions reductions goals. The Board and air districts have acknowledged that there is a need to obtain immediate emissions reductions from the CAPP in order to gain goodwill and ensure continued AB 617 funding. This raises the unasked question: do the air districts have enough time and can they apply sufficient resources to develop and implement thoughtful, effective and not unduly burdensome emissions reduction plans in the selected communities to justify to CARB, the California legislature and outsiders that the CAPP should continue instead of some alternative?

The difficulty of this task cannot be understated. As noted by the Board, there will be hiccups in the development and implementation of the CAPP because a program like this has never been done before. Also, the initial set of selected communities were chosen because of the diversity of their locations and the sources impacting them. Thus, CARB does not expect much overlap in the selected communities’ emissions monitoring/reduction plans, and the likelihood that local air districts will be able to utilize similar ideas for their emissions monitoring/reduction plans is low. Each air district will be creating its own independent program. Further, with the selected communities’ boundaries still uncertain, particularly those in urban areas, it is unknown if the development of emissions monitoring/reduction plans will really cover small, discrete geographic boundaries or will morph into a larger area. Whether AB 617 provides a long enough timeframe for the local air districts to achieve adopted goals or, alternatively, will fail because of its own accelerated timing requirements is something to watch over the coming year.