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Council to Consider New Pollution Restrictions for Santa Monica Airport

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 22, 2015 -- As it steps up its fight to one day close Santa Monica Airport, the City Council is considering tough new restrictions on pollution generated by aircraft there, including imposing a total cap on emissions.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie acknowledged the City still has a long, hard road ahead as it struggles with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to shut down aircraft operations, but she said it can act fairly quickly to curb hazardous pollution.

“Reduction of emissions through lease provisions is one area where gains may be attained in the relatively near future and should be pursued,” Moutrie wrote in a staff report to the Council released Wednesday.

Among the recommendations in the report – which the Council will take up at its meeting next Tuesday -- are developing a cap on total emissions at the airport, and lease provisions that limit the types of fuels that can be sold for aircraft use to those that generate less pollution.

Also included would be provisions in flight school leases to prohibit the use of leaded fuel for flight training, requiring lessees who sell aircraft fuel at SMO to start remediation of any contamination and possibly ending third-party fuel sales at the airport.

Instead, the City would study the feasibility of taking over that function, a way to assure the community that the “most environmentally sound fuel available” is being used, the report said.

“These actions are recommended as options for protecting the community's health and welfare, aligning Airport operations with the City's environmental values, and better shielding the City from liability,” Moutrie wrote in the report. Some of the recommendations first came from community members, she said.

Mayor Kevin McKeown said he was supportive of the tougher new proposals, and that they reflect the community’s desires.

“If anything I hope we may go further,” McKeown said.

The crackdown on pollution comes as City officials prepared to step up their counter offensive in the ongoing battle to close the century-old airport.  McKeown said Monday that the City was adopting a more “assertive” strategy in dealing with the matter, but said details will not be available until later in the week.

The most recent skirmish between the federal government and Santa Monica is over whether a FAA agency grant to the City for airport improvements has expired. The City argues it has, allowing it to take more control of the airport property. Opponents, who include aviators, contend the expiration date is in 2023.

The FAA has delayed taking action three times, infuriating some city officials and prompting the City’s decision to get more aggressive.

An FAA spokesperson, however, said such delays are not unusual.

“It is not uncommon for there to be extensions,” said Marcia Alexander-Adams from the FAA’s Office of Communications. Decisions on so-called Part 16 complaints “can be complex,” she said. “Therefore, additional review time may be needed.”

The fight over the airport goes back decades. Residents and others complain it is too close to homes to be safe and that it causes noise and pollution.  Supporters have argued resident issues can be addressed without closing the airport and that is useful part of the community and relieves crowding at LAX.

Wednesday’s report was originally requested by the Council in an effort to address worries that the airport poses health and safety hazards caused by airport pollution.

The report contains complaints from airport neighbors, who say their yards are covered with soot, and they are afraid to let their children play outside. The situation is more dire for those living just west of the airport, where homes are within 300 feet of the runway end, according to the report.

Moutrie said recent studies at and around the Airport have shown “the extent of harmful emissions generated by its operations.”

Over the years, “aircraft emissions from both jets and piston aircraft have been a growing source of concern and conflict” in Santa Monica, she said.  Most piston aircraft are fueled by aviation gasoline (avgas), which commonly contains the additive tetraethyl lead and therefore generates lead emissions that may be inhaled or ingested, she said.

“At certain concentrations, such emissions may be toxic to the human nervous system, especially for children. Jet fuels do not contain lead. However, turbine engines on jet aircraft emit carbon dioxide and ultrafine particles, which threaten both the environment and human health,” the report said.

Moutrie noted that some newer aircraft engines are already designed to use low-lead fuel, while older piston-powered aircraft can use the cleaner fuels once proper certification is received.

The problem is making such fuels available sooner, rather than later, she said.

“The future is, indeed, ‘unleaded’, Santa Monica simply needs to hasten its coming for the community’s health and welfare,” the report said.

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