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Construction emissions fees to stay
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Like everything else in the world, construction sites are now being told to go green, or else. Thanks to a recent court decision developers will end up paying fees for the air pollution generated at worksites, despite their many objections.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District won a case in Fresno's U.S. District Court last week that ensured their regulation of development-associated air pollution, Rule 9510, will continue. The court found that the Clean Air Act allowed the district to "regulate aspects of land use critical to air quality."

The National Association of Homebuilders had filed suit in June 2007 claiming that the Valley Air District's agency to assess development fees for air pollution mitigation was pre-empted by federal authority.

"This decision affirms that we have the authority to regulate the effects of motor vehicles and equipment attracted to development sites," said District Counsel Phillip Jay.

This is the second court decision in favor of the Valley Air District's authority to regulate construction site air pollution this year.

A coalition of development-related interests, including the Building Industry Association, the Valley Taxpayer's Association, the Coalition of Urban Renewal Excellence, and a local chamber of commerce had attempted to overturn Rule 9510 in February. The coalition had argued that the fee amounted to a tax under Proposition 13, but the Fresno County Superior Court found otherwise.

"Although the state and national industry associations have challenged the district's authority, our local builders have exhibited a great cooperation and willingness to implement reasonable measures to help protect public health," said Seyed Sadredin, Air Pollution Control Officer and Executive Director of the Valley Air District. "The Valley's innovative approach to emissions from new development activities is being closely studied by other regions in the state."

The rule in question was the first of its kind in California when adopted in Dec. 2005, setting a benchmark that other areas are looking to as a model for their own future regulation. Rule 9510 currently governs all eight counties in the Valley Air District, ranging from San Joaquin County in the north to parts of Kern County in the south.

Rule 9510, also known as Indirect Source Review, forces developers within the district to quantify the emissions produced by their project in both construction and habitation phases. Based on that number, mitigation fees are charged which can be offset through the construction of air-friendly components such as sidewalks, electric plug-in stations, green space, and other elements that encourage alternatives to driving.

According to the Valley Air District, Rule 9510 is one of the crucial elements for improving the Valley's air quality when taking into account the myriad factors that contribute to the area's poor breathing conditions.

"We have significant natural challenges to our air quality in the Valley by virtue of our geography and climate," Saedredin said. "Piling on our history tendency to sprawl has only posed another obstacle to achieving cleaner air. However, the cooperation of the development community in the Valley has been, and continues to be, crucial in improving air quality for all of us."