San Diego Review October 1, 1995
HOW MUCH SMOG IS ENOUGH?
By Dwayne Hunn
FROM AN IDEALISTIC KID:
In the late 60’s rookie law school graduate, Roger Jon Diamond, irked by boyhood memories of smog that sullied his round-ball chasing, decided to file a class action suit “to get rid of smog.” How Quixotic was that?
Perhaps you are a youngster, forgot your California history, or didn’t notice much while lifting beers in front of the tube…. If so, here’s an authenticated history…
FROM THE POLITICIANS:
The skies of Los Angles were so “yucky” that in January of 1970 State Senator Nicholas Petris’s legislation banning autos from the core of 19 California cities and banning the sale of internal combustion powered cars by 1975 passed the Senate, but failed in the Assembly.
Around the same time, President Nixon took a ride with friend C. B. Rebozo into the hills and dales of Orange County and the EPA’S role grew as he observed: “An area like this will be unfit for living. New York will be, Philadelphia, and, of course, 75% of the people will be living in areas like this… unless we start moving now…
Governor Reagan responded by supporting three measures by Chairman Pete Schabarum (R-Covina), a well endowed recipient of oil lobby money, that would: 1) regulate the volume of hydrocarbon producing olefins in gasoline; 2) require oil companies to alter chemical composition to benefit smog control devices; 3) lower taxes on natural gas to encourage use of natural gas powered vehicles.
FROM FOLKS MUMBLING IN SMOG
In vibrant democracies, discussion generally precedes acceptable solutions to nagging problems. In this case, the problem had been festering so long that a January 29th 1970 L. A Times editorial claimed an average of 13,000 tons of pollutants were daily dumped into L.A.’s skies. Many activist groups complained that many heart and breathing related deaths in LA were attributable to smog, and not the causes hospitals automatically placed on autopsy-less death certificates. More and more people heard that those majestic purple hued sunsets had more to do with nitrous oxide emissions than mother nature’s colorings. Environmental science students complained that spewing lead-based gasoline into the atmosphere was killing the ocean’s phytoplankton, the basic link in the ocean’s food chain and one of the world’s primary oxygen generators.
A few thinkers, without even a crystal ball, kept asking where spent radioactive fission fuel rods, generated from all those proposed taxpayer-insured nuclear power plants, would be disposed.
Some engineering types, not enamored of the “yuk” trapped in the Los Angeles Basin, proposed drilling giant holes into the surrounding San Gabriel mountains and constructing huge suction fans at the back end so that the smog could be sucked to the backside desert… Neighboring Palm Springs held her breath, since those “suckers” would have taken her desert clean breath away.
FROM THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY:
Head of the State Air Resources Board, A. J. Haagan-Smit, credited with discovering photochemical smog, was intrigued by a General Electric proposal to use hot air wastes from electrical power plants to penetrate the smog inversion layer. Instead of cooling the steam from power plant turbines by dumping it into the ocean, GE proposed building 60’ high by 100’ in diameter towers.
The California Environmental Quality Laboratory proposed a bounty tax on cars based on the miles driven, vehicle age and smog emitted. The Bay Area Air Pollution Control District denied permits to construct 18 service stations “until gasoline stations are zero emitters of hydrocarbons or its quality is better than the air quality standard.” This was a precursor of today’s gasoline vapor trapping pump hardware. In the 70’s, the nozzles of 3,600 stations in the Bay Air Pollution District evaporated 75 tons of hydrocarbons daily into the atmosphere. Gigantic plumes of heated air would rise through these super donuts presumably dragging with them two cubic feet of smoggy air for every cubic foot of air in the plume. The sucking fans never got placed, but anyone know what happened with this smokestack plan?
Don Quixote and his good stead girded themselves for battle, took deep breaths, got up a head of steam and tilted with windmills. Rookie lawyer Roger Jon (Quixote) Diamond collected his legal books, took a shallow breath on a smoggy day, and filed a class action suit. He didn’t tilt with sucking mountain fans, huge smokestacks and the millions of piston driven, flame-spewing dragons. Instead his lawsuit challenged LA County to enjoin the polluters — auto manufacturers, cement companies, oil refineries — from polluting the air.
In August of 1969, neophyte Jon Quixote thrust and parried in pursuit of his elusive dream, and Judge Lloyd Davis ruled, as the grown-up experienced world would expect, that the problem of air pollution in Los Angeles County was too complicated for the courts to address.
Did little Roger grow up, get real, pack up his childhood dream of kids chasing round-balls under blue skies — and go home to live in suburbia? Nope. He kept gathering technical and legal information on pollution and building his Clean Air Council of like minded dreamers,..
Boxers, lawyers and politicians win big fights in similar ways. A boxer can have a good jab, parry well in the ring, but without the ability to deliver a thudding knock out in a big fight, most of the crowd, jury or legislature pay little attention. Roger needed a thud, and he wasn’t far from meeting the manager/promoter who knew how to set up the big fight.