View Full Version : Group against Marine copters cites higher levels of pollution

12-17-03, 06:18 AM
Group against Marine copters cites higher levels of pollution

By Rick Rogers

December 16, 2003

A group that opposed the Marine Corps moving helicopters to Miramar and Camp Pendleton in the mid-1990s says it sees vindication in a new study showing higher levels of pollution than the military had claimed.

Jerry Hargarten, president of The MARCH Coalition Fund Inc., said an environmental study arising from his group's lawsuit proves that the helicopters at Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station have fueled a 130-ton-a-year increase in nitrogen oxides.

"I think this validates an important point we wanted to make," said Hargarten, who heads MARCH Move Against Relocating Choppers Here.

He said the increase is "in excess of the limit established by the Clean Air Act." Officials from the San Diego Air Pollution Control District disagree.

The Marines released a statement with an explanation of the discrepancy.

"The recent analysis differs from the 1995 analysis primarily because it incorporates a great deal of information that was not available at the time of the 1995 study," the Marines said. "The calculation of new emissions is based on the highest reasonable expected level of operations at Miramar, a level that has not been reached to date."

Nitrogen oxides combine with volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere to produce ozone, the primary component of smog.

Ozone can damage lungs and aggravate asthma. Children, adults who are active outdoors and those with existing respiratory diseases are most likely to feel the effects of increased ozone levels.

MARCH and others filed a lawsuit in 1997 to try to keep about 100 helicopters from calling San Diego home after the Marines took over Miramar from the Navy as part of a base-closing and realignment process. MARCH has opposed the helicopters on noise grounds.

The lawsuit contended, in part, that the Defense Department's environmental impact document underestimated the pollution that would be generated by the move. That document estimated that nitrogen oxides would be below 50 tons a year.

News of the pollution might have caused the Corps to change its operations at Miramar and Camp Pendleton had the San Diego Air Pollution Control District not created a special pollution allowance for the military last summer.

Known as the Military Growth Increment, it allows the military to produce up to 4,161 tons of nitrogen oxides a year and still comply with clean air standards.

"It is within the law that the district created this increment," said Robert Reider, planning manager for the air control district. "In fact, federal law encourages it, provided that smog levels are not violated as a result.

"The district is comfortable with the increment," he said. "This is not going to cause a violation of the smog standard."

Reider acknowledges the 130-ton increase in nitrogen oxides, but said that Miramar and Pendleton have reduced volatile organic compounds by 427 tons a year and carbon monoxide by 381 tons.

Hargarten agrees that the Marines are doing better, but is not impressed by the air pollution control district's actions.

"It appears that the policy of the county is to allow pollution increases as long as they can find a way to make them legal," Hargarten said. "They seem less interested in minimizing air-polluting emissions than in permitting as much pollution as the law allows."

Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; rick.rogers@uniontrib.com