July 29, 2004

Still Above The Law: South Coast Air District

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is a vast organization with jurisdiction over approximately 800 major sources of air pollution. The district employs 95 field-based inspectors to monitor compliance of stationary sources. Seven of the 11 worst offenders in the district are oil refineries, most located in south or southwest Los Angeles County.

The South Coast often settles a number of violations with one fine. In order to more accurately compare air districts we estimated the likely settlement for each violation by dividing the penalty assessed by the number of violations settled. Each violation, in turn, could involve breaking more than one rule.

Top ten indusrial air polluters in the South Coast by total penalties paid or number of violations

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved
AES, Alamitos $17,000,000 1
Mobil Oil Corporation, Torrance $2,155,575 80
Chevron Products Company, El Segundo $518,450 93
Tosco Refining and Marketing Company, Wilmington $382,363 74
Equilon Enterprises, Carson-Wilmington $331,300 45
Southern California Edison Company, multiple locations $252,750 10
Arco Products Company, Carson-Wilmington $218,375 31
Ultramar Inc, Wilmington $165,440 36
AES, Redondo Beach $120,000 2
AES, Huntington Beach $110,320 2
Unocal Refinery & Marketing Corporation, Los Angeles $100,000 12
Paramount Petroleum Corporation, Paramount $38,250 17
Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath, Irvine $30,000 10
Graner Oil Company, Signal Hill $15,000 18

Annual median fines in the South Coast district

Year Total number of civil violations settled Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected
1999 214 $1,550 $697,280
2000 160 $1,675 $625,330*
2001 131 $2,050 $542,478
2002 136 $2,375 $911,590*
2003 97 $3,644 $828,515
1st quarter 2004 9 $1,950 $20,150

*Does not include two multi-million dollar settlements.
** The South Coast did not provide us with information about settlement times.

This analysis only compares civil penalties levied by air districts. In addition to civil penalties, the South Coast uses other measures to penalize permit violations. Mutual Settlement Agreements are penalties issued for "minor, non-intentional, non-recurrent types of violations which are not handled through criminal or civil actions." The number of civil violations resolved each year has declined between 1999 and 2003, while the typical penalty size has increased. This is probably due to the fact that the South Coast is settling an increasing number of minor infractions through the Mutual Settlement program.

Hearing Board penalties and fines for self-reported violations are also settled separately. The air district has forced 10 companies to improve their facilities through Supplemental Environmental Projects, including $22.7 million at 10 major facilities.

Additional enforcement actions by the South Coast air district

Penalty type Number of Penalties Average Total Penalties
Hearings 37 $5,716 $211,525
Miscellaneous 2 $652,520 $1,305,040
Mutual Settlement Agreements 170 $432 $73,426
Self-reported violations 4 $2,175 $8,700
Supplemental Environmental Projects 10 $1,774,392 $17,743,922