Last week, the San Joaquin Valley was hit with a $29m fine because an air monitor in Clovis passed a federal threshold for the 4th time.
It pushed Clovis over the federal limit for one-hour ozone violations in a three-year period. In 2010, Clovis had three similar violations for one-hour readings – which are the highest daily readings at each monitor.
Now every motorist in the Valley will have to pay an extra $12 on their vehicle registration to help pay the fine. Early this year, local lawmakers decided that the penalty should be paid for by motorists, and not industry.
The fine is supposed to be the stick that will motive that valley to clean up its act when it comes to ground level ozone pollution. The money from the penalty will be used to help decrease local pollution by buying cleaner school buses, subsidizing purchases of clean farm equipment, etc.
The problem is, the local population is too far removed from this penalty for it to be of any real purpose.
And the current strategy of getting residents to comply with measures that would have avoided the penalty are ridiculously weak
Officials there are pleading with the public to refrain from any activity that would create pollution over the next few days. That includes running your lawnmower, idling your car through drive-thrus, and unnecessary driving during the afternoon hours.
“So if folks out there have errands they were going to run this afternoon, run them on Saturday, run them on Sunday. Push them off till the weekend, wait until the temperatures cool off a little bit,” said Holt.
Right, because some official issuing a press release is really going to change behavior. I’d give $10 to meet a single person who read the warning and decided to not drive that day.
“What, I didn’t even know about that,” said Clovis resident Holly Rollis. Many Clovis residents were unaware that their area could push the Valley over the limit when it comes to meeting federal air quality standards.
The fact is, only people who read the newspaper are aware of this issue, and how many of those readers will be bothered to take any action?
This is especially stupid because we have one agency begging people to drive less, and not use drive-thrus, but then we have other sides of government approving new highways, wider roads, and more fringe development. Does every bank, fast food chain and pharmacy need not one, but two drive-thru lanes? Build them and people will use them. Asking people to refrain from using the drive-thrus that are the prominent feature of many news retail developments simply does not work.
Something as critical as dangerous pollutions levels should not be left to volunteer efforts. It’s time the Air Pollution Control District is given the tools needed to make the short-term changes that can decrease pollution on those key days.
Some cities like Sao Paulo and Mexico City have a program called “do not circulate” in which motorists with a license plate ending in a certain digit are not allowed to drive on specific days of the week. This is similar to how watering days are set based on your house number (Wednesday, Friday, Sunday for example).
Such a harsh measure is not needed here, but there are many steps that can be taken to make sure the valley doesn’t exceed the standard.
For example, instead of issuing a “volunteer action alert” take the following steps on days and hours in which a violation may occur:
—-Mandate that all drive-thrus* must be closed from 2pm-7pm on high risk days. The establishment can still open, but patrons must park and walk in if they want their meal to-go.
*Exceptions could be allowed for stands (like the coffee ones) which ONLY offer a drive-thru option.
—-Put a $1 surcharge on drive-thru bills every other day of the year. Call it a “pollution convenience tax”. This will educate people that their convenience is having real negative effects on other people. Many will choose to save $1 by parking and walking inside.
—-Ban lawn work on high risk days, unless the gardeners are using electric equipment. This will give an incentive to purchase cleaner equipment so that they can work every day.
—-Institute electronic tolling for trucks on 99 that varies with air quality. For example, on a day with 110f temperatures, between 3pm and 7pm, trucks are charged $20. But after 7pm, they only get charges $10. This encourages them to plan their trip during the “safer” hours for air quality. The tolls would vary every 15 minutes as needed to encourage trucks to pull over, turn off their engine and have dinner. Tolls on clean days can be $1, simply to help pay for highway maintenance.
—-Ticket idling vehicles waiting for their children after schools. They can park and wait, but the engine must be off.
There are many other measures that can be taken to actually affect behavior.
Of course, some crowds will immediately respond with the “get government out of my freedom to idle!.” These people are incredibly selfish, and do not understand that we have set up government to regulate activities which are harmful to others. Your 6 minutes at the drive-thru may be the reason an old lady has to stay home all day using her asthma medication. When your freedom to be lazy takes away the freedom for someone to breathe, we have a problem.