Regulated Entities in California Communities May Face More Investigation and Enforcement by California Air Resources Board

Regulated entities in designated communities — compiled and termed the “Consistently Nominated AB 617 Communities list” — will want to pay close attention to updates from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on its Community Protection Program Blueprint 2.0. Currently, communities in the Bay Area, Imperial, San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Metropolitan, and South Coast air districts are on the list. As part of a mandate to reduce toxic air contaminant and criteria pollutant emissions in communities that have a high cumulative exposure burden, CARB is updating the Program Blueprint 2.0 as required under Assembly Bill 617, adopted by the California Legislature July 26, 2017. CARB’s present revisions may result in increased investigation and enforcement of regulated entities in these communities.

In addition, CARB is planning to allocate grant resources for up to an additional 65 communities to administer, but has not described in detail its plan for regulatory oversight. Stakeholders in California should take note of CARB’s updated guidance and priorities, as the Program Blueprint is updated only every five years.

As background, the Program Blueprint emphasizes the importance of realizing air quality benefits in communities that are low income or communities of color. Communities are placed on the Consistently Nominated AB 617 Communities list through recommendations from air districts and community-based organizations as well as through self-nomination by the community. CARB then selects communities to become part of the program. By increasing the duties of individual air districts, AB 617 imposes state-mandated local programs. Air districts are required to report annually to CARB for criteria air pollutants and toxic contaminants and, in certain circumstances, must undergo additional monitoring for facilities, community emissions reduction programs, and an expedited schedule for technology adoption at stationary sources.

The proposed Program Blueprint 2.0 is separated into two parts:

  • Part One describes the problem the Blueprint is trying to solve, guiding principles, and commitments from CARB and the air districts. As part of the program, CARB aims to enforce existing regulations, work with the 19 communities to implement their Community Emission Reduction Plans, make program information and grants easily accessible, and allocate resources efficiently to other eligible communities, 65 of which have been nominated for the program.
  • Part Two contains implementation guidance for participating organizations for which CARB intends to accelerate community-scale air quality improvement actions. Namely, Part Two discusses required program elements, funding, and resources; the process for community selection to provide support to more communities; and possible community-driven actions and provides guidelines for developing, approving, implementing, and tracking community air monitoring and emissions reductions.

There might be several challenges regarding the program transition between the original Program Blueprint and the proposed updates in Program Blueprint 2.0. For instance, CARB expects to maintain rigorous regulatory oversight for 19 communities while using the same resources to increase compliance for an additional 65 communities. This would require stretching existing program resources to cover many more communities and additional program elements. Moreover, CARB plans to rely on web-based tools that are still under development without indication that stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide input. Finally, authority and guidance are absent for the new local community emission reduction plan pathways, which would make applicants responsible for implementing priorities using a community air grant. The Office of Community Air Protection (OCAP) would be required to address these challenges as they are made by stakeholders prior to or during implementation.

The original Program Blueprint was adopted in October 2018. The OCAP anticipates proposing a revised Program Blueprint 2.0 in September 2023. The public comment period closed July 31, 2023.

This post is as of the posting date stated above. Sidley Austin LLP assumes no duty to update this post or post about any subsequent developments having a bearing on this post.