Clean air is good for business. In fact, in the Sacramento Region it’s crucial.
There are direct and indirect economic consequences for our region’s 61,000-plus businesses when we fail to meet tightening federal and state air quality standards:
- Lost or Delayed Transportation Funding
- Reduced Attraction and Retention Ability
- Reduced Ability to Accommodate Large Businesses
- More Fees and Regulations
- Reduced Employee Health and Productivity
Lost or delayed transportation funding for movement of employees and goods:
Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government can delay or withhold transportation funding for communities that fail to meet air quality standards. It happens when local plans for roads and transit don’t support plans to improve local air quality – a complex, ever-changing relationship known as “conformity” in bureaucratic jargon. Failure means a “lapse” in conformity – and delayed or lost funding.
It’s not an idle threat. When Atlanta failed to clean its air, the city suffered a two-year lapse that limited its ability to use federal funds for both transit and highways. The city was reportedly ineligible for as much as $153 million a year during the violations.
The EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standard in December 2012, and will continue to pressure states and municipalities to adopt forward-looking air quality policies. The federal government will have several more opportunities in coming years to influence whether and how we use our federal transportation money:
- Our region’s new $30 billion transportation plan will have to mesh with new air quality plans designed to meet stricter federal ozone standards;
- Tighter new federal standards for lung-damaging soot will prompt another examination of air and transport plans by the end of the decade;
- Federal regulators also check transportation and air quality plans every three years to review changes in the way we measure auto and truck emissions.
Reduced ability to attract and retain talented workers:
Cleaner air helps improve our region’s overall quality of life, which is a major factor in decisions by companies, innovators and talented workers about where to work and live. Imagine trying to attract a promising college grad, manager, investor or new business with the haze of a smoggy summer day as the backdrop.
Reduced ability to accommodate large, job-generating businesses:
When we don’t meet clean-air standards, we can lose capacity to accommodate large, job-creating businesses and industries. A new factory or power plant in a community that is struggling to meet air quality standards may produce too many emissions and be forced to operate at only partial capacity – or worse, be held up in the permitting process.
Although cars and trucks make up at least 70% of our region’s air pollution problem, influencing driving habits and other personal behaviors can be a big challenge with results that are difficult to quantify. Stationary sources become attractive targets.
More fees and regulations for businesses:
New air pollution standards and population growth can make our level of disconnect with federal ozone standards more severe, prompting the specter of more fees and regulations for businesses.
Reduced employee health and productivity:
Bad air means more illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. That means more sick days, higher health costs, unhappier employees and less productivity. About 2.8 million lost workdays each year are related to air pollution exposure in California, according to the California Air Resources Board. Asthma is the leading cause of school absences due to chronic illness and lost workdays, according to Breathe California.
“Economic vitality is dependent upon a community’s strong quality of life – and clean air is a crucial factor in a community’s quality of life.”
Former President & CEO, Sacramento Metro Chamber