Finding Opportunity in the High Desert
November 21, 2014
By Geoffery Metz | West
VICTORVILLE, CA—Eldon Heaston is executive director for the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District. As part of his work, he sees the High Desert, comprised of Adelanto, Apple Valley, Barstow, Hesperia and Victorville, as a strategic opportunity for businesses seeking to remain in the golden state based on his agency’s pro-business approach. As the local air pollution control agency for San Bernardino County’s High Desert and Riverside County’s Palo Verde Valley, the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District (MDAQMD) has primary responsibility for controlling emissions from stationary sources of air pollution. There are over 1,000 such businesses operating under MDAQMD permits within the agency’s 20,000 square mile jurisdiction.
GlobeSt.com caught up with Heaston to talk about the region.
GlobeSt.com: How is your agency different from other air districts?
Eldon Heaston: We consider the MDAQMD as California’s final frontier for businesses seeking to remain in the golden state, based largely on the legendary working relationships we have developed with our regulated community. Throughout its 21-year history, the MDAQMD has succeeded in breaking down barriers which have historically existed between regulatory agencies and regulated industry, and replaced them with a unique common sense approach to air quality regulation. We believe that eliciting ideas from all possible sources is the best way to find mutually beneficial solutions, and to the fullest extent possible, industry is our partner in the development of air quality rules and plans which benefit local air quality and the local economy. As a result, local industry has more flexibility in meeting environmental mandates than their counterparts in neighboring air districts and even some nearby states.
GlobeSt.com: What is your role?
Heaston: As the MDAQMD’s Executive Director, I am appointed by the Governing Board to enforce the District’s rules and regulations. I am also responsible for enforcing provisions of the Health & Safety code, running state programs, appointing District personnel, as well as running the MDAQMD’s day to day operations, including its permitting, enforcement and planning programs.
GlobeSt.com: How do you help businesses handle local and state regulations?
Heaston: California’s air quality regulations have garnered a reputation for being some of the most challenging in the nation. With the advent of AB32 and increasingly stringent regulatory standards, flexibility can mean the difference between success and failure for some businesses. Hence, the MDAQMD’s mission statement - to attain and maintain a healthful environment while supporting strong and sustainable economic growth – is exactly how we approach the regulatory process. The MDADMD understands that when our residents spend a significant amount of time commuting to out of area jobs, both our economy and air quality suffer. Thus, regulatory flexibility is key to economic and environmental sustainability, and to how our agency operates.
GlobeSt.com: How does your agency support business?
Heaston: The MDAQMD offers one of the most streamlined air quality permit application processes anywhere in California. We offer an average 20-day permit turnaround for uncomplicated permit applications for such equipment as gasoline stations and spray booths. Our knowledgeable, accessible staff is readily available to provide step-by-step, one- on-one assistance through the permitting process. In addition to being expedient, fees for our permits are some of the lowest anywhere in the state. As a result of our less restrictive regulations and reasonable control measures, our regulated industry enjoys operational flexibility in meeting environmental mandates. Additionally, the MDAQMD offers generous grants for projects that reduce emissions from mobile sources through our AB 2766 program and for projects that reduce NOx from heavy duty engines through our Carl Moyer Program. We also recognize businesses that exceed air quality standards through our Exemplar Awards and Mojave Green Business Programs.
GlobeSt.com: What are some examples of work that has helped support economic growth in the High Desert?
Heaston: The MDAQMD pioneered interbasin emission reduction credit transfers in California, which allowed elusive offsets generated in an upwind area to be transferred into the High Desert. The transfer of air credits created by a stationary source located in one air district for use by a source in a different district represents an opportunity for the High Desert to share economic development opportunities with upwind neighbors and help them meet their air quality goals. The MDAQMD is a vocal advocate of New Source Review (NSR) reform as a means of insuring reliable and affordable supplies of energy and economic stability in the region. In 2010, the MDAQMD became the first and only air district in California to ask then-Governor Schwarzenegger to suspend AB32 based on the potentially crippling effects the legislation’s increased regulatory burden could have on the High Desert’s fragile post-recession economy. The MDAQMD Governing Board reaffirmed its position in 2012.
GlobeSt.com: How would you describe the opportunity for business growth in the High Desert?
Heaston: The High Desert has a well-deserved reputation as one of California’s most business-friendly regions. With plenty of available building space, abundant room for goods movement and expansion and optimum meteorological air quality conditions, the High Desert is truly ground-zero for businesses that are serious about long term growth and success.
GlobeSt.com: What would you tell a business considering a move to the area?
Heaston: If you’re looking for an affordable, progressive, business-friendly location with optimum air quality to site your business, look no further than the High Desert. And if you’re looking for an air district that prides itself on balancing environmental protection with common sense and sustainable economic growth, the MDAQMD would like to do business with you!