The South Coast Air Quality Management District will consider adding restrictions or higher charges on new plants located in "environmental justice" neighborhoods. These areas are in highly polluted and predominantly poor and minority communities. In voting 8-1 to ease access to air pollution credits for new power plants on September 8, the board also called for potential project restrictions. Board members asked their staff to draft the strictures after dozens of community activists protested the district's proposal to provide credits to the power industry. SCAQMD's board is expected to vote on adding conditions for new power plants in Los Angeles early next year. At the same time, it is expected to expand the availability of air credits for new liquefied natural gas terminals and oil import facilities. District chair Bill Burke suggested that those building plants in polluted areas could be required to pay "two or three times" as much for credits from SCAQMD as plant builders in less polluted zones. The city of Vernon, Edison Mission Energy, and BP - which are expected to buy almost all the credits - would likely be affected by the higher fees, potentially paying more than $800 million for the air credits if the board adopts Burke's suggestion. "It smacks of redlining," said Curtis Coleman, Southern California Air Quality Alliance attorney. Burke retorted: "Finding poor people has never been a tough job." In another twist, the district pledged to use a third of the proceeds it receives from selling air credits to power plants to support renewable energy projects in neighborhoods around new generating facilities. Under the just-adopted regulatory amendments, the regional smog-fighting agency opened its priority reserve air credit bank to new power plants. It plans to open it to the other "regionally significant" energy facilities early next year. Normally, it is reserved for publicly owned and operated facilities, such as water treatment plants and fire stations. Builders of at least six plants - including Edison Mission Energy, BP, and the cities of Palmdale, Vernon, and Victorville - are expected to pay the air district $292.4 million for 18,000 pounds of air pollution rights over the next two years. That does not include any potential add-ons to stem emissions in polluted areas. Power plant builders accessing the credits will have to complete their air permit applications by 2008 and pay $50,417 per pound per day for fine particulate matter. They will also pay $15,083\/lb\/day for sulfur oxides, $12,000\/lb\/day for carbon monoxide, and $1,410\/lb\/day for volatile organic compounds. The district will use the money to fund projects that will reduce air pollution. Under the adopted payment schedule - which could be raised - the cost of purchasing air credits from the district will equal as much as 25 percent of total plant construction costs, the district said. However, the credits are even more expensive on the open market. There, the credits recently have fetched as much as $3,000\/lb\/day for volatile organic compounds and up to $85,000\/lb\/day for fine particulate matter, according to Evolution Markets, a pollution rights broker. SCAQMD's staff said that unless the board passed the proposal, the power industry faced an imminent shortage of air credits that would lead to near-term blackouts in the greater Los Angeles area. "We hope we can keep our standard of living a couple notches above Baghdad," said Laki Tisopulos, SCAQMD assistant deputy executive officer. Others maintained that nonpolluting energy-efficiency measures and renewable energy would fill the gap between electricity supply and demand without providing credits for new fossil-fueled power plants in the highly polluted greater Los Angeles area. "There were supposed to be [credit] shortages," said Joseph Lyou, California Environmental Rights Alliance executive director, holding up an energy-efficient lamp. "Without shortages there would be no incentives to do things like LED [light-emitting diode] lighting." However, others said that renewable energy and energy efficiency alone will not be enough to meet rising energy demand.