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Smog costly for drivers
Valley coughing up fine for bad air
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The smog is not only making folks irritable but it will soon cost every vehicle owner in the San Joaquin Valley $12 a year.

Air pollution officials reported excessive heat, stagnant air and vehicle exhaust combined Wednesday to push the San Joaquin Valley over the federal smog limit for the first time this year. The bad news comes on the heels of San Joaquin Valley setting a clean air record in August by going the entire month without exceeding critical ozone levels.

The federal government last year imposed a $29 million annual fine on the valley for failing to meet air quality standards established in the Clean Air Act.

The fine will expire in several years if there are no more air quality violations at any monitoring stations in the valley. If the overall number exceeds three this year or next then the annual fine wil be extended through at least 2013.

Clovis is already at three violations since 2010.

Manteca Councilman John Harris was critical of the annual fine and the pending $12 assessment per vehicle to pay that fine.

“I would be comfortable with it (the fee) if there was a guarantee it would go to improve air quality but if all the fee is going to do is go to the (federal government’s) general fund, and then I have a problem.” Harris said.

There isn’t much the Manteca City Council or any local agency can do to avoid the fines except to ask people to cut down on driving during air alerts such as the one we are currently experiencing through Friday. The best way to do that is to eliminate idling by avoiding things such as drive-up service windows where it involves an extended time sitting in a line with the engine idling.

Harris also has been critical of the federal standard not taking into account outside sources that foul the valley’s air quality including out-of-state trucks that come into California burning dirtier fuels and using engines that pollute more. He also referenced out-of-area sources such as pollution from China that floats across the Pacific Ocean and makes its way into the valley where it is trapped.

An air quality monitoring station has been placed in Big Sur to gather such data. There is no indication whether the federal government will allow data collected to justify easing up on the standard that is being sought.

The stakes have also been upped by the federal government.

Even tighter air quality standards may end up banning new businesses from opening and prevent the expansion of existing businesses throughout the San Joaquin Valley including Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop. That’s due to new Environmental Protection Agency mandates to further reduce emissions in the San Joaquin Valley by nearly 90 percent that carry with them draconian sanctions.

“Other potential sanctions for failing to meet new federal air standards include losing all federal highway and federal takeover of the air quality control district.

Population in the valley has almost doubled since 1980 while emissions have been slashed by more than 50 percent.

The San Joaquin Valley during the past 10 years has:

• reduced emission from stationary sources by 83 percent.

• scored an 83 percent reduction in unhealthy days.

• recorded the cleanest winter on record in 2010 with only two unhealthy days.

• has enjoyed the cleanest summer on record with over 50 percent reduction in the number of times ozone levels exceeded standards by 8 hours or more.

The valley averages 625 tons of nitrogen oxides being released in the air on any given day. The new standard is to get it to 80 tons a day or less.

Heavy duty trucks account for about 250 tons daily. Passenger vehicles and off-road equipment each account for about 80 tons while off-road equipment is about another 70 tons. Other off-road sources such as trains account for around 30 tons. The balances - or nearly 120 tons - are from stationary and area sources that the district has control over establishing rules. Mobile sources generate 500 tons a day and are under state and federal regulations.

Working against the valley are the surrounding mountains and meteorology that create ideal conditions for trapping air pollution. Chronic poverty and unemployment rates hamper efforts as well as the high population growth.