For years, as chairman of the 2,000-member Small Business Coalition, Laird battled environmentally progressive AQMD regulations. In 1997, Laird heavily pressured not only Silva but also Nell Soto, an AQMD commissioner and Pomona Democrat. The issue was then-AQMD executive director—and critic of dirty companies—James Lents. Laird wanted Lents gone. Laird even spoke before the AQMD board, pleading with the commissioners to sack Lents. In June, Silva and Soto provided the final votes to do just that.
Three months later, the EPA began investigating three companies for allegedly violating clean-air standards. One of Laird's companies, Air Quality Consultants, provided consulting assistance to all three firms. Whether by coincidence or—as Laird maintains—revenge, the EPA asked Laird for a mountain of documents to determine whether his consulting included tips on how to circumvent federal environmental standards. Laird bitched and moaned but complied. An EPA spokesperson said the investigations remain open and should conclude sometime next year.