Energy & Environment

Clean-Air Pressure on Developers

A California community asks builders to help stop smog.
July 2007

In central California's San Joaquin Valley, the only thing growing faster than the population is the gap between pollution levels and federal clean-air standards. The influx of residents has been canceling out state efforts to reduce emissions through technology, says Tom Jordan, an administrator at the region's Air Pollution Control District.

So local officials put a new twist on the old concept of developer fees. Indirect Source Review gives developers a choice: Add pollution- reducing measures to your new projects or pay up.

Builders can choose from "a whole menu" of techniques, Jordan says. They can build energy-efficient houses or mixed-use, high-density developments that require less driving. Or, for large commercial developments, they can ship in supplies using low-emission trucks. Developers who reduce typical nitrogen dioxide emissions by 33 percent and particulate matter by one-half pay no fee. Those who don't achieve those levels pay a fee based on the state's emissions model for motor vehicles.

ISR revenue will go toward programs to reduce pollution, such as converting buses to run on natural gas. Jordan says that if developers attempt only minimal pollution mitigation, the program could generate $100 million over three years. But, he adds, "it's actually our preference to see more mitigation built into the projects rather than to collect fees."

Business reaction has been mixed. While the Building Industry Association opposed the program, which started in March, other builders welcome the region-wide program. Often faced with lawsuits, some businesses have voluntarily enacted mitigation measures, so they see the need, Jordan says, "for new development to do its fair share."

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