In a bold, creative attempt to bring more federal and state funds to solve the air pollution problem in California's Central Valley, local leaders hope to declare the region an "air quality empowerment zone".
Urban planning has long sought to improve blighted areas through redevelopment, and more recently, economically deprived areas through empowerment zones, allowing the use of tax breaks, credits, and other economic incentives. Can environmental planners use the same approach be used for regions suffering from severe air pollution?
As a response to the state's worst air pollution, Central Valley "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."
Environmentalists have reacted cautiously to the plan, and Congressional representatives have yet to endorse it.