Southern California may be getting a new chief smog regulator as soon as today, and one environmental justice group is not happy about the rumored pick, or the lack of transparency surrounding it—especially considering all the controversy surrounding the firing of the last guy.
Late last year, Republicans botted a clean-energy Democrat off the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District—which is responsible for regulating pollution in Southern California, the country's smoggiest region—and took a majority. Ever since, they've been highly concerned with making the board more "business-friendly," which basically means less strict with big polluters like oil refineries. Shortly after that it adopted a set of oil industry-approved regulations so lax that it has since been sued over them.
Then, last month—ignoring hours of public testimony—it voted to fire long-time Executive Officer Larry Wallerstein, who oversaw an enormous decrease in SoCal pollution during his tenure.
Now, according to a meeting agenda posted on the South Coast Air Quality Management District's website, the board will discuss the appointment of a new executive officer in a closed session Friday, April 1. According to rumors reported Tuesday by the LA Times, private industry consultant Wayne Nastri is the board's leading candidate to replace Wallerstein. Throughout the George W. Bush administration, Nastri served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest region. Since then, he has acted as president of the environmental and energy consulting firm E4 Strategic Solutions, which deals with government officials on behalf of clients.
While Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council praised Nastri's work in the story by the Times, other environmental activists are not so pleased with his record.
"We are deeply concerned about rumors that the Board is rushing to hire industry lobbyist Wayne Nastri," says attorney Adrian Martinez in an email sent from a communications firm on behalf of environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice. "Nastri embodies the dangers of the revolving door—he has made a career out of using his government experience to influence and lobby regulators on behalf of his corporate clients."
As the Times notes, those clients include battery recycling company Quemetco Inc., which is regulated by the board. Quementco has a history of resisting environmental regulation, fighting against a state plan for lead testing even as LA County struggles to clean up lead-contaminated soil at thousands of homes affected by the now-closed Exide battery recycling plant.
Nastri also spent time as an AQMD board member in 1997 and 1998, but his brief tenure ended in ignominy. Prior to his appointment to the board, Nastri did not disclose that his consulting company was owned by a prominent pesticide manufacturer with a subsidiary regulated by AQMD.
Nastri's tenure with the EPA also received some scrutiny when an audit last year revealed that he spent $69,000 in taxpayer money for personal flights to and from his home in Orange County during his time as administrator.
Members of the AQMD board have not commented on Nastri's potential appointment. With so many questions circulating about his background, Martinez and others are worried about the board's lack of transparency in the hiring process. Given that the appointment would come less than a month after Wallerstein's dismissal, there is also concern that the board has not done its due diligence. "With so much at stake, we urge the Board to undertake a thorough hiring process in order to find a leader who will get serious about reducing air pollution and protecting public health," Martinez writes.