Builders in San Joaquin Valley face air pollution fees

Builders in California’s Central Valley may have to pay air pollution fees on new commercial and residential developments beginning March 1, under a rule adopted by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Rule 9510 requires developers of large residential, commercial and industrial projects to reduce smog-forming and particulate emissions. The region’s air quality is among the worst in the nation. The air pollution control board said the rule would reduce nitrogen oxides and particulates throughout the area by 10.5 tons per day by 2010. It requires builders to reduce nitrogen oxides by 33 percent and particulates by 50 percent of a project’s baseline. If projected emissions exceed the minimum baseline reductions, the project’s developer will have to pay a fee to the air district, which would use it to fund clean-air projects.

The air district is able to level the fees because of California law SB709, which requires the Valley air district to control emissions from indirect sources.

“With the amount of expected growth in the Valley, every emission reduction from this rule is important,” said Seyed Sadredin, deputy director of the air district. “Although air quality has improved greatly over the years, we still have a severe problem, and innovative programs like this will help us clean the air.”

But Tim Coyle, senior vice president of the California Building Industry Association, says the rules are unfair.

“They are based on very flimsy science.” Coyle said. “They single out new developments when the contributors to poor air quality in the Central Valley come from a very broad-based population.”

The air district contends new developments increase pollution by prompting more vehicle trips and creating more pollution-causing activities such as landscape maintenance, fuel combustion and use of consumer products.

“San Joaquin Valley has severe air quality problems with ozone and particulate matter and we don’t meet either the state or federal health standards for those two pollutants,” said Kelly Hogan Morphy, a spokeswoman for the air district. “Because of that, we are required to adopt very stringent rules to reduce emissions in the Valley.”

Coyle said California environmental laws already require builders to satisfy air quality standards when they propose new development projects. Under the new indirect source rule, he said, builders pay a fee, which doesn’t satisfy any regulatory or statutory requirements. “It’s basically just a tax,” Coyle said.

He credits voluntary programs by CBIA and state-sponsored programs with improving air quality in the Valley during the past three years. Builders in the Central Valley have stopped providing wood burning fireplaces, which reduces particulate matter, and have built green subdivisions that promote electric mowers and solar power. State-sponsored programs such as Carl Moyer go after the gross polluters, Coyle said.

The building industry association is considering a lawsuit against the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Rule 9510 would apply to new developments that are at least:

· 50 residential units
· 2,000 square feet of commercial space
· 10,000 square feet of governmental space
· 20,000 square feet of medical space
· 25,000 square feet of industrial or educational space
· 50,000 square feet of general office space

For a typical residential development of 120 single family homes on 24 acres, builders’ fees would be as follows:

· $780 per home if no on-site air pollution mitigation measures are employed
· $557 per home with typical on-site mitigation, such as having a density of five dwellings per acre; not installing woodstoves; increasing energy efficiency by 5 percent; having retail outlets nearby; installing sidewalks on both sides of half the streets and one side of the other half
· $454 per home with “more than typical” on-site mitigation, such as increasing energy efficiency by 10 percent; installing sidewalks on both sides of all the streets; and deed-restricting 10 percent as affordable housing

Fees collected would help fund projects such as:

· Paving previously unpaved roads
· Infrastructure for bicycles
· Public transportation subsidies
· A planned vehicle-scrapping program
· Upgrading dirty engines to cleaner models