Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Watch this air quality lawsuit in the San Joaquin Valley

Environmental watchdogs filed suit last week to stop that $12 dirty-air fee now attached to your vehicle registration each year.  Keep your eye on this one, folks.

It’s all about that $30 million ozone fine that the San Joaquin Valley pays each year for missing a cleanup deadline.

This lawsuit hits at the heart of who pollutes and who pays in the Valley — where there have been more ozone violations in the last 12 years than any other place in the country. The fine is for failing to achieve an old ozone standard.

The lawsuit says the fine has been illegally shifted from major industries to residents, but local air authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency don’t see it quite that way.

The federal suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Latinos United for Clean Air, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club.

By law, the federal fine for missing the cleanup deadline in 2010 is supposed to be pointed at major industries, Earthjustice says. The EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it allowed local air leaders to waive the fine for many of these industries, the suit says.

But local air authorities say industries already have spent $40 billion over the last several decades and reduced pollution dramatically. Now, they say, it’s time for motorists, who help create the pollution, to pay a little more, too.

There are a host of arguments on both sides about who pollutes more and how the cost should be split up. I’ll let readers trot out the numbers and the arguments.

I’ll conclude by answering the one question that is asked every time I bring up this $30 million penalty.

Where does the money go? It goes into the Valley’s pool of pollution-reduction  funding. It’s used, for instance, to help replace dirty diesel engines in the Valley.




8TM says:

How does the $40 billion industry is said to have spent reducing its polluting emissions over the last 20 years compare to the aggregate cost of thousands of dollars per automobile that the driving consumer has spent on his or her much, much cleaner running vehicle and the more expensive blended fuels that powers it as compared to the fleet and fuels of 20 years ago?

While I have believed the Air District and EPA to be on shaky ground, I’m happy to pay a lousy dollar a month to help clean the air. I am content that the vehicle fee continue regardless of the ultimate legal judgment as to what the law demands in the disposition of the fine. It is a little galling that a late-model hybrid in dunned the same amount as a 25-year-old black-belching diesel, but none of us should be so dull as not to realize that those trucks are hauling to market many of the things we ourselves consume.

So let those 200 most polluting industries pay as the law demands and let the vehicle fees continue.

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