Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

That federal air penalty is really a local DMV fee, money stays here

Valley motorists have been paying most of a $29 million federal dirty-air penalty since 2011. It’s the extra $12 on your annual Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees.

The federal mandate for the penalty would be lifted if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees that the San Joaquin Valley has attained the one-hour ozone standard. Local air leaders this month are approaching EPA with a historic attainment request.

But what has the federal government been doing with the $29 million each year? I asked the EPA.

“Characterizing the DMV fees as a federal penalty is inaccurate, and it’s the air district that has received the $29 million, not the federal government,” a spokeswoman told me this week.

I confess I have written about the air district part of that statement. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has been open about the money for years. It is used in such Valley clean-air programs as diesel replacement.

But almost every time I write about it, someone writes or calls and asks why Valley residents have to send millions of dollars to the federal treasury. That is not happening.

When the “penalty” was enforced, the Valley air district was allowed to collect the fee. A few years ago, the state law gave the district the option to collect these DMV fees — whether or not the district is under a federal mandate.

Local air leaders say if the Valley attains the one-hour ozone standard, they want to eliminate the mandate.

The next question: How would the public feel about continuing the $12 fee to help achieve the much tougher eight-hour ozone standard as well as the tiny particulate standard?

Expect that question and discussion to come up later on.

Responses

Étieme says:

Keep the fee. Buck a month per car. Is that too much to ask of ourselves to try to make this a decent place to live? The fee is one of the reasons the valley has made progress, and in spite of this milestone, we’ve still a long way to go. As you say, it is a penalty we have been paying to ourselves. California law enabled Air Districts to levy up to (I believe) 45 dollars per year. I know at least one forward looking board member moved that the fee be permanent when its use to satisfy EPA’s fine was first enacted. I don’t believe the motion was seconded. Political cowardice.

Alan Kandel says:

If only there were a way to incentivize people to do what is necessary to clean the air, similar to available rebates regarding the purchase of photovoltaic systems. Imagine being rewarded for purchasing either an ultra low-emissions or no-emissions vehicle? Or being incentivized to use public transportation, although I wish there were more mass transit options here in the Valley. Or, incentives to developers to build more sustainably like infill building in central core districts in Valley cities, which, ultimately, would reduce sprawl and hence reduce pollution related to more efficient travel and transportation. I believe there is an economic advantage for doing all of the above.

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