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City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to have city attorneys review ways to control emissions at Santa Monica Airport.

“We know that in recent years, epidemiological evidence of the effects of air pollution has increased our knowledge about the types and opportunities to control emissions so in addition we have seen numerous studies and actions on controlling hot spots for air pollution and we, as many people around the globe, have taken major efforts toward controlling greenhouse gas pollution,” said Councilmember Terry O’Day, who brought the item to council. “The airport is an example of a place where we might continue to apply some of this increasing knowledge.”

Council left it up to city attorneys to bring back options for potential ordinances or emissions standards.

On July 1, a key agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and City Hall expires. Some in the community believe council should address the emissions standards before that happens and Mayor Kevin McKeown asked that city attorneys return with options as soon as possible.

Last year, the Airport Commission put forth a recommendation that would have banned aircraft that didn’t have certain emission standards.

Earlier this year, city attorneys warned that the commission’s idea would invite litigation.

“I’d like to offer a motion that we direct staff to, not regulate, as I think we heard that word come out earlier, but to consider strategies as an operator to reduce the air pollution from our airport,” O’Day said after hearing public testimony. “Those strategies ought to be practical and we ought to look to examples in our community like some of the ones that we’ve heard … I think we don’t want to attempt to cross over our authority in this matter but we do want to try to take the actions that we can as an operator of the airport.”

Emissions regulations at airports controlled by the FAA generally fall under the purview of that agency or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — a federal agency — but O’Day asked attorneys to consider laws that have been enacted in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that allowed local governments to control emissions created by federally operated vehicles.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said she’d return with more information.

“We understand that legal risk is only one of many concerns,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez asked city attorneys to also consider leasing guidelines at SMO when thinking about emissions.

“Some of the operators could be some of the contributors, also, to this pollution,” he said, “so whatever we could do to get it back to staff and see what the legalese and how we can craft this, if it’s a resolution, that could impact our leases that we move forward with, especially the aviation uses.”

McKeown said that when he met with the EPA a decade ago, he was told they could only regulate emissions produced by larger engines.

“We still have the conflict of what we can do on aircraft emissions per se and what the FAA says is within their and the Environmental Protection Agency’s purview,” he said. “Of greater interest to me is what we can do on the ground. If we can say that on the ground, it is not going to be legal in Santa Monica to do certain things that may peripherally help create pollution later generated by aircraft, that might be a door that we can open.”

Attorneys will return with options for council at a later date.

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