Incentive 'zone' for air quality proposed
Some Valley officials call plan innovative; others see a giveaway.
By Mark Grossi - Mcclatchy NewspapersPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, December 3, 2006
San Joaquin Valley officials have a clever plan for solving the region's tenacious air problems. Whether it succeeds in securing more money is another question.
Federal lawmakers are not on board yet, and environmentalists are raising questions. But no one argues about the Valley's air problem.
The region's air pollution and economy are among the nation's worst. Health costs related to air quality are estimated at $3.2 billion annually.
Dirty air each year kills 1,000 residents prematurely, a state study shows.
In response, local officials are crafting a plan they say would help bring in $150 million annually in extra federal and state assistance -- more than double the annual budget of the local air district. The plan includes establishing an "air quality empowerment zone," a new twist on a program that provides tax breaks and incentives in blighted areas.
"Why can't there be an air quality version of an economic enterprise zone?" Fresno Mayor Alan Autry asked. "We need these incentives. We have to have them."
The empowerment zone would allow the money to be funneled to businesses and public agencies as tax breaks, low-interest loans and grants to buy new diesel trucks and engines. Vehicle replacement is the key, say officials at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
More than 60 percent of the region's air quality problem comes from vehicles, which are under the jurisdiction of federal and state governments.