Southern California environment news and trends

Is fee amnesty a business boon, or free air pollution?

You may have never heard of it, but Rule 310 - from the South Coast Air Quality Management District - lets businesses come in from the cold when they increase their emissions and don't report themselves to the AQMD. It's a suspension of fees and requirements for certain businesses for equipment it installs that relates to air pollution.

Depending on what equipment a facility adds - the cost savings could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The AQMD's release points out that businesses "must pay the regular permitting fee with their application and comply with all other applicable air quality rules and regulations, including the requirement that new facilities use the cleanest air pollution control technologies available."

AQMD did this last year, too, from February through August. At the time, AQMD chair William A. Burke said, "It's important that we continue efforts to meet clean air goals and protect public health during these financially challenging times," Burke said "We want to work with businesses to make sure they are operating in compliance with air quality regulations without facing any additional financial burden at this time."

Before last year, the last time the Air Quality Management District enacted such a suspension was for a four year period from 1995-1999. I called up the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. A spokesman there says he can't think of a time the BAAQMD ever instituted such a rulemaking. The only other place I think I've found such an amnesty program is in Maricopa County, Arizona. 

I don't know what the global benefits are to taking such an action. I can see that it helps some people sell services. From reading various blog posts, I can tell the construction industry likes it. Perhaps it's helpful to the AQMD's enforcement staff, who otherwise would have to follow up each year more intensely with thousands of businesses, some quite small, that contribute to air pollution. 

The last several years - the decade, even - of air regulation in California - they've seen officials tightening down standards for everything they can get their hands on (and trying for some things out of their reach). That's probably increased the paperwork for small businesses. Southern California in general and the South Coast AQMD in particular have done a lot to cut the smog here. At the same time, we're still not attaining the lower pollution levels (in some cases) that southern California should to have healthier air. And I guess I'm wondering what kind of signal using these words sends about the value of this kind of regulation in general. 

The word amnesty is usually used to mean an official pardon from a legal offense, usually, a political one. So you could say that calling something a fee amnesty sort of implies that the fee is a political choice rather than a policy value. But a more loaded term than that is the word holiday - which rather puts one in mind of 4th of July picnics and going home for a big Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe that's because I was with musical theatre nerds on Saturday night - someone busted out into Dick Van Dyke singing, "It's a jolly holiday with Mary..." from Mary Poppins. So I might be poisoned with show tunes. What do you think? 

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