Agenda 2005: A Guide To The Issues

August 17th, 2004 by Leave a Comment

Air Quality

Agenda

  • Implement an effective emissions trading system similar to the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, which implements a regional cap-and-trade strategy to reduce ground-level ozone.
  • Improve prioritization of air pollution risks.
  • Reduce traffic congestion.
  • Use remote sensing technology to target the small number of high-polluting vehicles.
  • Use market incentives to encourage fleet turnover.
  • Implement and encourage more convenient, accessible, cost-effective and economical mass transit options.
  • Lower the fixed costs of owning an automobile.
  • Embrace innovative incentives to encourage use of transportation alternatives.
  • Encourage market-oriented policies to increase urban tree cover and reduce impervious surface and stormwater runoff.
  • Encourage more telecommuting.

Facts

  • Research on vehicles in metro Atlanta indicates that 3 percent of the vehicles on the road produce approximately one quarter of all mobile source pollution. Likewise, 10 percent of all vehicles produce approximately half of all mobile source pollution.[1]
  • Between 1970 and 2002, U.S. gross domestic product increased 176 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 155 percent, energy consumption increased 45 percent, and U.S. population increased 39 percent. At the same time, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants decreased 48 percent.[2]
  • Technological advances have greatly contributed to positive air quality trends. For example, automobiles manufactured today pollute approximately 25 times less than their 1970s counterparts.[3] At the same time, 37 different models of low-emission vehicles were available from automakers in 2004.[4]
  • The overall quality of Georgia’s air is good — and getting better. However, federal air quality standards are getting tougher, which will keep Georgia in non-attainment for concentrations of some pollutants, namely, ozone and particulate matter.[5]
  • Although the 13-county metro Atlanta area is in nonattainment for ozone, it meets current standards the vast majority of the time. In 2003, just 13 exceedances of the tougher eight-hour standard were reported in metro Atlanta; just three out of 11 metro Atlanta monitors exceeded the one-hour standard on one day.[6] Since 2000, at least 99.97 percent of readings of monitors have met standards for the May-September ozone season.[7]
  • Meeting federal air quality standards is not just a challenge for the metro Atlanta area. In 2001 and 2002, monitors reported nonattainment of ozone standards in Macon, Augusta, as well as the Cohutta Wilderness Area of North Georgia.[8] Additional regions of the state will face difficulty in attaining tougher ozone and particulate matter standards.
  • In addition to the respiratory problems that excessive ground-level ozone can pose to humans, it can also impact plants. Southern commercial loblolly pine was estimated to show 2-5 percent annual growth reduction at current levels of ozone, according to the Southern Oxidant Study, and that could result in a 10 percent reduction in stemwood biomass over a 10-year period. However, the elevated levels of carbon dioxide evident in climate change (often referred to as “global warming”) far outweigh the negative effects of increasing ozone on the loblolly, according to researchers.[9]

Trends

Georgia has adopted national standards for six primary air pollutants: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and ozone. A network of sampling monitors throughout the state monitors the levels of these pollutants. Georgia meets federal standards for all except ozone and particulate matter in certain areas of the state.

Despite soaring population growth in the state – 26.4 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the Census Bureau ­­– emissions monitors show Georgia’s air is getting cleaner. In 2002, metro Atlanta’s nonattainment area was in violation of the federal 1-hour ozone standard for 0.078 percent of 43,534 hourly observations.[10] In 2003, the violations (four of 33,488 readings) amounted to 0.012 percent of readings.[11]

Even so, the area is being reclassified from “serious” nonattainment to “severe” nonattainment. The air is not worse; the federal government has raised the bar and standards have gotten tougher. After a lengthy court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the EPA the go-ahead to replace the 1-hour ozone standard of 0.12 parts per million with a tougher standard that will add to the number of Georgia counties out of attainment.

Concentrations of particulate matter have also declined since monitoring began in 1999, although in 2002 it still appeared that 40 percent of the state would not meet the tougher federal standard for PM2.5 or fine particulate matter.[12] However, in the clearest signal of improving air quality, on February 15, 2004, the state EPD submitted a list of just 10 Georgia counties to the EPA to be where monitors have detected violations of the new federal standard for PM2.5: Bibb, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Floyd, Fulton, Gwinnett, Richmond and Walker counties.

Overview


What Is Ground-Level Ozone?

Ozone occurs naturally in the stratosphere approximately 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface and forms a layer that protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful rays. However, high levels of ozone in earth’s lower atmosphere – ground-level ozone – can be harmful to human health.

The recipe for ozone is simple: Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) combine in sunny, stagnant heat. In Georgia, 76 percent of VOCs are biogenic, or produced by nature. They combine with NOx, largely from automobiles and industry, to form ozone. Add particulate matter to the mix and it produces a smoggy day in Georgia. Because heat and sunlight play pivotal roles in the formation of ozone, May through September is designated as “ozone season.” NOx emissions have become the primary target of the ozone-reduction equation in metro Atlanta for a number of reasons.[13]

What are the sources of ozone-forming emissions?

Sources of ozone-causing emissions are divided into five categories. Biogenic sources are natural sources such as plants and trees. A point source is any stationary location or fixed facility from which pollutants are discharged, such as a factory smokestack. An area source is any source of air pollution that is released over a relatively small area but cannot be classified as a point source, such as small engines, small businesses and household activities. An on-road mobile source is any non-stationary source of air pollution such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, airplanes and locomotives. Off-road mobile sources include combustion engines on farm and construction equipment, gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment, and power boats and outboard motors.

The largest source of VOC emissions in metro Atlanta is from on-road mobile sources and natural (biogenic) sources.[14] The largest contributors to NOx emissions are point sources.[15]

Projected 2004 emissions in the 13-county nonattainment area are shown below. From 2000 to 2010, VOC emissions are projected to decrease from 162 to 101 tons per day and NOx emissions are projected to decrease from 264 to 163 tons per day.[16]

How serious is the problem?

As with many issues, DeKalb opinions differ regarding the seriousness of the ozone levels. After the EPA issued a tougher 8-hour ozone standard, the Georgia EPD recommended the following counties be designated in nonattainment: Barrow, Bartow, Bibb, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett , Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton. The EPA responded by adding Catoosa and Walker counties in North Georgia and Houston and Monroe in the Macon area.

While the expanded area in nonattainment in Georgia would seem to suggest that air quality is declining, the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, even though actual levels of air pollution have declined dramatically in the last 20 years, federal standards for several pollutants have become increasingly tougher.[17]

As demonstrated by the accompanying charts, for most air pollutants, Georgia is well below federal standards and the trend is getting better. This does not mean that Georgia should not continue efforts to improve air quality, but there needs to be acknowledgment of the progress that has been made and an admission that perfect air quality is impossible.

The science of ozone creation

The chemical processes that form ozone in the atmosphere are nonlinear, which means that any change in emissions will not be accompanied by a proportional change in amount of ozone formed.[18] Therefore, it is difficult to estimate the impact that certain emission reductions will have on ozone concentrations. Sometimes the effect is contrary to conventional wisdom. For example, it has been observed that less ozone is created in high NOx concentrations. Therefore, for large sources of NOx such as power plants, the benefits of decreasing emissions of NOx can be partially offset by an increase in the efficiency with which ozone is formed.[19]

What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter is tiny particles invisible to the naked eye but collectively seen as haze, soot or dust clouds. Produced by a variety of sources, its composition varies widely.

Those particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers, or microns, in diameter are known as “fine” particles; those larger than 2.5 microns are known as “coarse” particles. (A human hair is 70-100 microns in diameter.) Fine particles result from fuel combustion, including from motor vehicles, power generation, industrial facilities, residential fireplaces and wood stoves. Fine particles can be formed in the atmosphere from gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. Coarse particles are generally emitted from sources such as vehicles traveling on unpaved roads, materials handling, and crushing and grinding operations and windblown dust.

The federal EPA has tightened its particulate matter standards to focus on PM2.5, which is inhaled more easily. It is establishing two standards for PM2.5, a 24-hour standard and an annual standard, aimed at protection from long-term and short-term exposure. The standards reflect controversial epidemiological studies that cited an association between particulate matter and mortality. The 24-hour standard is attained when, over three consecutive years, at least 98 percent of the average 24-hour PM2.5 concentrations per year per monitor are less than or at equal to 65 microns. A region exceeds the standard if the result is greater than 65 microns for at least one monitoring location in the region.[20] The annual standard is met when, as averaged over three consecutive year, the annual average PM2.5 concentration is less than or equals 15 microns.

Critics exposed statistical errors in the epidemiological studies that resulted in the PM2.5 standards.[21] The standards have been criticized as unnecessarily stringent, expensive and unlikely to improve public health.[22] Nonetheless, business, industry and residents can expect tougher new regulations to meet the EPA’s new standards after nonattainment designation in December.

In February 2004, the state EPD submitted to the EPA a list of 10 Georgia counties that did not meet federal standards for PM2.5, but in June it recommended 26 counties be listed as nonattainment counties for PM2.5. The EPA’s list, which will be finalized in November, covers 34 Georgia counties.[23]

Georgia has seen a consistent decrease in the annual PM 2.5 concentration, according to monitoring the state Environmental Protection Division. Source: EPD

Sources of future air-quality improvements

Automobiles

Despite dramatic increases in both the number of vehicles in the metro Atlanta area and the number of miles each vehicle is driven, air quality has improved. Much of the credit must go to the improvements in emission-reduction technology. Automobiles manufactured today pollute approximately 25 times less than their 1970s counterparts.[24] On average, the fleet turnover to progressively cleaner vehicles has been reducing emissions by about 10 percent per year.[25] Starting with the 2004 model year, the EPA requires that 25 percent of new cars and trucks must meet EPA’s tough new requirements for new tailpipe emission standards; manufacturers say they’re exceeding expectations and anticipate reaching 35 percent.[26] All cars, SUVs and trucks must meet the new standards by 2009.

At the same time, fuel refiners are producing and supplying cleaner gas and diesel – helping these vehicles run 77-95 percent cleaner. By 2007, 90 percent of the nation’s gasoline supply will be low-sulfur. Clearly, pollution will keep dropping as older vehicles are supplanted by new lower emitting, more durable models and fueled by better gasoline.

Trucks

Based on a 1999 analysis by Georgia Tech, of the 3.5 million vehicles registered in the 13-county nonattainment area, only 6,031 were heavy-duty diesel vehicles. However, Atlanta has significant interstate truck traffic. About 15 percent of Atlanta’s truck traffic is from outside the Southeast and about 85 percent is from Georgia and neighboring states.[27] An emissions testing program limited to locally registered trucks is unlikely to achieve meaningful reductions and likely to push companies to relocate and register in neighboring states, as occurred in California.[28]

The EPA requires diesel fuel to contain 97 percent less sulfur by 2006; by 2007, diesel engines are required to reduce emissions by 95 percent over current levels. The EPA predicts this will make new trucks and buses up to 95 percent cleaner than today’s models.[29] However, stakeholders including manufacturers, trucking companies and environmental groups have raised concerns about the EPA regulations’ effectiveness. A report released in March 2004 by the General Accounting Office recommended addressing concerns.[30] “We want to clarify that GAO is recommending that the agency consider additional steps to alleviate existing concerns, avoid a significant pre-buy of older engines, and better guarantee that the emissions and health benefits are achieved,” the GAO wrote. Recommendations include considering industry incentives, using an independent panel to assess progress and communicating with all stakeholders.

Based on the 1996 emissions inventory, heavy-duty diesel trucks produced more than half of all mobile source NOx emissions in the metro Atlanta nonattainment area. Therefore, Georgia’s air quality should continue to improve as these new regulations are implemented.

Power Plants

Emissions control measures installed in 2003 as part of the State Implementation Plan were projected to reduce NOx emissions from Georgia Power Company’s power plants to 50 percent less than they were in 1990. This is occurring while electricity generation has increased by more than 20 percent. In addition, the EPA’s Regional Haze Program, new rules for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and strengthened ozone standards are expected to further reduce NOx emissions from power plants over the next decade.

Challenges remain, however:

EPA rules intended to clarify what constitutes New Source Review versus routine maintenance at power plants are being challenged in court. Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, has challenged an EPA lawsuit that defined some work on power plants as processes triggering new source review, which requires tougher emissions controls.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest anthropogenic source of mercury in the United States; they account for 1 percent of mercury emissions globally.[31] (Natural sources of atmospheric mercury include volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, and volatilization from the ocean.). The EPA’s proposed Utility Mercury Reductions Rule is expected to reduce emissions 69 percent of that 1 percent, through the flexibility of a market-based emissions “cap and trade” system. The plan faces opposition from some environmental groups that argue the rule is too lax.

The Bush administration’s Clear Skies and Global Climate Change initiatives, market-based voluntary initiatives aimed at reducing pollutants and greenhouse gases, have also been opposed by environmental activist groups that say it weakens the Clean Air Act and want carbon dioxide emissions reductions, too, blaming the greenhouse gas for global warming.[32]

Agenda

Implement an effective emissions trading system similar to the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, which implements a regional cap-and-trade strategy to reduce ground-level ozone.

Emissions trading programs use market forces to help find the lowest-cost emission reductions within a trading area. An emission trading program works by first setting a pollution reduction goal based on sound scientific data. Some businesses will be able to generate emission reductions meeting or exceeding the required reduction economically, while others, at the point of diminishing returns on emission-control equipment, might not be able to reduce emissions enough to meet the reduction target. In order to continue operating, those businesses must buy surplus emission credits from others. The same holds for businesses that wish to expand and for new startup businesses.

The result is that incentives are created for each facility to reduce emissions as far as possible. Those capable of generating surplus emission credits can turn them into profit, while those who cannot (often small businesses) may stay in business by buying emissions until new technology appears to let them reduce their emissions cost-effectively.

Just as encouraging vehicle fleet turnover takes advantage of new technology, barriers to technology upgrade need to be removed for point sources. An emissions trading approach would allow regulatory officials the flexibility to focus their efforts on reducing overall levels of pollutants rather than micromanaging how these entities achieve those reductions.

Emission trading programs have been used nationally, in the case of sulfur dioxide trading, and in Los Angeles, where a cap was established for VOC reductions. The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic implements a regional cap-and-trade strategy from Virginia to Maine to reduce ground-level ozone.[33] President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative proposes cap-and-trade emissions programs for utilities involving sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury. Unfortunately, Georgia’s first attempts to encourage this type of activity have not been very successful. The proposed expansion of Georgia’s nonattainment areas will provide challenges in counties unprepared for emissions restrictions. Therefore, Georgia should reevaluate the design of its existing program in order to encourage more participation.

Better prioritizing of air pollution risks

Asthma and breathing problems are frequently cited as a reason to keep young children and the elderly indoors when ozone levels are high. Yet remaining in an air-conditioned apartment may be the wrong solution. Even as air quality has improved over the decades, the reported incidence of asthma continues to climb, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reason for the increase remains a mystery, but there are indications that indoor pollution, exacerbated by inadequate ventilation, is one likely cause.[34] Fire and tobacco smoke, pet dander, mold, roach droppings, cooking and cleaning fumes are all asthma triggers and suspect in a poorly vented environment. Additionally, Americans’ obsession with cleanliness may be hindering children’s ability to build immunity to common, everyday substances in their environment.

The same holds true for mercury emissions from power plants, which have declined considerably and are set to decrease even more. As Foundation adjunct scholar Harold Brown points out, estimated mercury emissions from power plants in Georgia in 1994 were 3,864 pounds. If that amount was equally distributed over the state, about 100 pounds would fall into Georgia waters every year because about 3 percent of the state is covered by water. The other 97 percent would fall on land and would move very slowly toward streams, if at all.[35]

In focusing on the populist targets of automobile and power plant pollution, environmental activist groups often are doing communities a disservice by diverting attention and education efforts from areas in which impactful air quality improvements can be made.

Utilize remote sensing technology to target the small number of high polluting vehicles

Research has shown that in metro Atlanta just 3 percent of all vehicles on the road produce approximately one quarter of all mobile source pollution and just 10 percent of all vehicles produce approximately half of all mobile source pollution. Therefore, an effective and cost-efficient strategy is one that focuses repair or removal efforts on this small number of high-polluting vehicles. A successful effort in this area could produce dramatic reductions in the expanding metro Atlanta nonattainment area; in other areas where nonattainment status is imminent, and could possibly prevent other metropolitan areas in Georgia from reaching nonattainment status.

Traditional vehicle testing programs take a shotgun approach to a problem that needs pinpoint targeting. Such programs assume every car is equally likely to have a broken emission-control system; however, they are not. An efficient way to target these high-polluting automobiles is with remote sensing. Georgia Tech has pioneered the technology to cheaply scan a car’s tailpipe emissions from the roadside, identify the car by its license plate and record the results.

This technology offers two possibilities. First, mobile remote sensing vans could be used to identify high-polluting vehicles. Owners of such identified vehicles would receive notice in the mail that they must have their vehicle tested and repaired within a certain time frame.

Second, the devices could be used for a voluntary “clean screen” program. These sites would essentially provide a “drive-by” emissions test. Upon passing the test the owner would receive a notice in the mail exempting their car from its next scheduled emissions test. The “clean screen” program cuts down on the number of cars tested, eliminates the hassle for many citizens, and focuses efforts on testing and repairing the dirtiest vehicles.

Any program designed to actually repair vehicles will raise serious fairness concerns involving repair costs, since high-emitters are often owned by those of limited means. Such motorists, in many cases, have little choice (in the economic sense) but to drive vehicles with high emission characteristics.

A range of options is available to help minimize the inequities caused by such a program. However, this is tricky. Subsidizing vehicle repair or offering incentives to owners who voluntarily “scrap” their vehicles pose “moral hazard” problems as people try to “game the system.”[36] Experience tells us that grant-based programs are unlikely to produce the desired results, while being prone to abuse. Loan-based programs, however, could address many economic equity concerns and minimize the potential for abuse while still putting the primary responsibility for driving a clean vehicle where it belongs — with the vehicle owner. As for who would administer such a loan program, a range of potential public-private partnerships can be envisioned. To date, experience in California and elsewhere suggests that motorists have generally managed to get their vehicles repaired without assistance.

Reduce traffic congestion

Traffic congestion costs metro Atlanta’s commuters as much as $1,686 annually in wasted time and fuel, depending on which route they use for their daily commute, according to a study released in 2003.[37] The Texas Transportation Institute calculated that delays cost drivers in the Atlanta region $2.021 billion annually.[38]

Atlanta’s traffic congestion was rated the 13th worst in the nation in 2001 (most recent available), compared to 23rd worst in 1991.[39] A large portion of the region’s deterioration in air quality is related to cars idling in congestion and frequent stops and starts. If traffic is “smoothed out” so that people are driving at a constant speed, air pollution can be reduced. Roadway expansion in the Atlanta region has not kept up with the increase in traffic volumes. Additional roadway capacity is vital to absorb the additional demand from the region’s increasing population.

Other ways to relieve traffic congestion include market-oriented pricing such as converting HOV lanes into HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes. As with traditional HOV lanes, vehicles with more than one passenger would travel free. However, if excess capacity exists on these lanes, other vehicles would be allowed to pay a toll and use the excess capacity. In many cases, the tolls are varied based on time of day or based upon congestion levels.

Often derided as “Lexus Lanes,” studies on HOT lanes currently in use have shown that the demographics of the users of the lanes does not differ significantly from nonusers. One possible explanation is that reducing travel time could have great appeal to hourly workers or parents seeking to avoid high late charges at child care centers. This kind of highway investment offers tangible relief to that large majority of residents who will continue to use the automobile as their primary mode of travel, and who cannot cost-effectively be served by mass transit that we can afford to build and operate. It will also create a busway network that offers a high-speed alternative guideway system for buses, taxis, jitneys and emergency vehicles. For more information, see “Tolls Could Bail Metro Area Out Of Congestion” by Benita M. Dodd at www.gppf.org/article.asp?RT=&p=pub/Transportation/hotlanes.htm and the transportation section of Agenda 2004.

Implement more convenient, accessible and economical forms of mass transit.

Part of the reason for the decline of transit is related to the wealth of society. When people can afford to own and operate their own vehicle, they generally opt to do so. However, another reason that people avoid transit is that it is very time intensive, even compared to spending time in rush hour traffic. It is unrealistic to assume that a significant number of citizens will give up the freedom and convenience of their automobiles as a primary source of mobility. However, a better designed transit system can help make carpooling or transit a desirable option for more people for more of their trips.

Spending vast sums of money on light rail experiments that have proven ineffective in other cities is a waste of resources. This money could be invested more wisely in creating an extensive shuttle van and bus rapid transit (also called flex trolleys) network that offers direct connections between job and activity centers with a high frequency of service to limit waiting times. The most effective way to accomplish this is by using express buses and shuttle vans that utilize a combination of existing roads, HOV lanes, dedicated busways and intelligent transportation systems (the ability to extend the duration of a green traffic light signal, for example). This offers an alternative to solo commuting that is nearly its equal in flexibility, safety, convenience, cost and travel time. It is also one of the least expensive and easiest systems to implement, because it taps knowledge already prevalent in the market, requires low start-up costs and little construction of facilities.

Fixed-route bus service alone will not meet all needs for alternatives to the automobile. Public officials should encourage private shuttle and jitney operators to service niche markets. Various forms of user-side subsidies (variants on transit passes) could be administered and promoted by transportation management organizations (TMOs) at the larger employment centers.

Unfortunately, most cities exercise tight control over taxi and related services by limiting the number of cabs, setting price controls, etc. Shuttle-van services tend to be heavily restricted to paratransit for the elderly and disabled and to airport shuttle services. Extensive deregulation of these municipal regulations would be required to allow a shuttle van or jitney transit system to emerge.

Another way to improve transit service is to reduce its cost, by switching from monopoly provision to competitive supply. In the Atlanta region, the Cobb County bus transit system is competitively contracted. In 2002, Cobb Community Transit’s operating expense per revenue vehicle hour was $84.86 and MARTA’s was $102.41, a 20.7 percent difference.[40] For more information, see transportation section of Agenda 2004.

Consider emissions-based fees.

Sport utility vehicle (SUV) owners realize that their lower gas mileage will result in higher fuel expenses, but are willing to make that tradeoff. Automobile owners should also be willing to evaluate the tradeoffs with paying more for cars that emit more pollution. A fee-based system tied to a combination of vehicle emission profile and vehicle miles driven over the course of a year could make these environmental costs explicit to owners without taking away their ability to choose those vehicles due to safety or other concerns. The fees could also be used to underwrite subsidies for other pollution control efforts.

Lower the fixed costs of owning an automobile.

It is unrealistic to assume that a significant number of citizens will voluntarily choose not to own an automobile, even if they use transit often. There are many fixed costs that go along with owning a car that do not change even if the car sits in the garage unused; insurance and ad valorem taxes are the largest of these costs. Given these fixed costs, there is little incentive not to drive. However, there are some innovative ideas, such as pay-by-the-mile insurance, that could help change this dynamic.

Auto insurance premiums are based upon a standard estimate of how many miles a vehicle will be driven each year, so that whether you drive 5,000 miles or 50,000 miles you pay the same premium. Some insurers are now testing new products that would pro-rate the premium based upon your actual mileage.[41] In other words, the less you drive, the less your risk of being in a wreck, thereby limiting the risk to the insurer and the price to the consumer. These policies would be entirely voluntary, with mileage tracked by GPS (Global Positioning System) or odometers.

Embrace innovative incentives to encourage use of transportation alternatives

Allowing employees to “cash out” their employer’s parking subsidies provides an incentive for individuals to choose transit over commuting by car. Studies show that on average, if an employee has to pay the cost of his or her own parking, that employee is more likely to find a way to share a ride to work. In one study, when forced to pay for parking, only 39 percent of employees drove alone, compared to 66 percent of solo commuters when employers paid parking.

A politically palatable approach that avoids levying new parking charges is “parking cash-out.” With voluntary parking cash-out programs, employees can opt to surrender their parking privileges in exchange for the cash value that the employer would otherwise have to pay in order to provide them with such privileges.

By allowing employees to “cash-out” their parking privileges, researchers have estimated that Los Angeles could reduce the number of solo commuters by 20 percent as employees choose to pocket the cash, and find an alternative way to get to work. Additionally, the IRS allows a fringe benefit exclusion amount of $100 per employee for van pool costs and transit costs, while the fringe benefit exclusion amount for qualified parking for employees is $195.[42]

Here’s how it works, based on the Perimeter Transportation Coalition’s scenario:[43]

·       Employer purchases a $100 monthly subway or bus pass and gives it to
the employee. Employee pays no payroll or income taxes on benefit.

               ·       Employer pays no payroll taxes and deducts $100 expense per month, or
$1,200 annually.

                ·       Employer provides a free vanpooling service. Employer and employee
experience same tax savings as above.

                ·       Employer offers $195 instead of the parking space (Parking Cash Out)

Use market incentives to encourage fleet turnover.

It is likely that technology will allow us to remove automobiles as a major source of air pollution in the not-so-distant future. Therefore, incentives that encourage vehicle fleet turnover will take advantage of this constant improvement in emissions technology in newer vehicles. As alternative-fueled vehicles (electric, natural gas, fuel cell, hybrid, etc.) become commercially available, affordable and more effective, fleet turnover will provide significant air quality improvements.

Encourage market-oriented policies that increase urban tree cover, reducing impervious surface and stormwater runoff.

Urban air pollution is exacerbated by the warming associated with urban development known as the urban heat island effect. In metro Atlanta, a progressive loss of tree cover and increases in impervious, paved areas have increased temperatures up to 12 degrees since 1972. Abnormally high temperatures affect not only human comfort, they also increase the rate of photochemical reactions that form smog, including harmful ozone concentrations.

In an effort to stay cool, city dwellers turn on their air conditioners, increasing the use of electricity-produced burning fossil fuels. The direct result is an increase in emissions that increases air pollution. Also related to development is an increase in stormwater runoff. This links air quality to water quality, because up to 90 percent of the atmospheric pollutants falling on impervious surfaces are washed into streams that feed water-supply rivers.

Pervious surfaces can be a reasonably cost-effective solution when taking into account that the higher cost of materials is offset by savings on detention ponds and other stormwater management systems.

A creative solution in urban areas, which improves air quality, water quality and aesthetics, is green roof design, in which landscaping replaces the impervious surface of a building or parking lot roof.[44] At the Turner Entertainment Group’s Atlanta campus, urban green space was created when a 2.2 acre parking lot was transformed into a landscaped green roof plaza and garden. With the resurgence of downtowns inviting more loft dwellers, green space is at a premium, and there is room in the marketplace for such innovation.

Another solution to these multiple, interrelated impacts is to adopt impact fees based on objective criteria such as impervious surface. The fees can be used to fund incentives that make it worthwhile for developers to protect trees or for reforestation grants to groups like Trees Atlanta. Fees that reflect such costs could discourage development of high-impact areas and could encourage development patterns that make better use of natural resources. For more information, see the Water section of Agenda 2004.

Encourage telecommuting

A common trade-off facing many Georgians is choosing between the perceived opportunities provided by the “big city” versus the quality of life of a small town. Thanks to advances in technology, including the Internet, broadband communications and the growing trend of “virtual” offices, regional offices and video conferencing abilities, it is now possible for many people to have the best of both worlds – a high-paying job and a high quality of life. Governor Sonny Perdue got the ball rolling in 2003 by announcing a telecommuting goal of 25 percent for state employees. Regional suburban offices are an easy alternative for those who need decentralized computer access. In addition to helping distribute economic growth around the state, telecommuting has the ability to reduce automobile trips overall, and particularly in major metro areas where congestion and attaining federal air quality standards are a concern.

[1] Georgia Institute of Technology

[2]Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/airtrends

[3] Heartland Institute

[4] Associated Press

[5] “Georgia’s Environment 2003,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.state.ga.us/dnr/environ/gaenviron_files/annlrpt_files/gaenv02_03.pdf

[6]  Georgia Environmental Protection Division www.air.dnr.state.ga.us/tmp/exceedances/index.php?yr=2003

[7] Georgia Environmental Protection Division; calculations by the Nordmark Consulting Group.

[8] “Georgia’s Environment 2003,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.state.ga.us/dnr/environ/gaenviron_files/annlrpt_files/gaenv02_03.pdf

[9]  “Studies reveal some trees ‘pine’ for greenhouse gases,” Research Page, Warnell School of Forest Resources, University of Georgia, www.forestry.uga.edu/warnell/research/html/forestry/pine.html

[10] Georgia Regional Transportation Authority  2002 Annual Air Quality Report, www.grta.org/PDF_Files/publications/2002_Annual_Air_Quality_Report.pdf

[11] “2003 Air Quality Index Report,” The Nordmark Consulting Group

[12] “Georgia’s Environment,” Georgia EPD, 2003, www.dnr.state.ga.us/dnr/environ/gaenviron_files/annlrpt_files/gaenv02_03.pdf

[13]  VOCs differ widely in their ozone-forming potential, with the strongest classes of VOCs being of natural origin: Nearly 40 percent of VOC emissions, including the most strongly ozone-producing VOCs in the area, actually come from trees. Such natural sources of VOCs are actually stronger in promoting ozone formation than man-made sources are. In fact, one study of natural VOC emission strength took advantage of a natural experiment to demonstrate how little impact man-made VOC controls can have: While man-made VOC emissions in metro Atlanta decreased 37 percent from 1979 to 1985, there was no noticeable decline in ozone levels. In fact, ozone levels may have even increased. Another reason to focus on NOx reduction is that reductions of man-made VOCs occur as a by-product of processes used to reduce man-made NOx emissions; however, little NOx reduction occurs as a by-product of the processes used to reduce man-made VOC emissions. Source: Innovative Approaches for Meeting the Georgia Ozone Challenge, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, 1999.

[14] Natural emissions from vegetation, principally trees, are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in the rural South and a significant source of these compounds in many southern cities. Source: Southern Oxidant Study, http://www2.ncsu.edu/ncsu/CIL/southern_oxidants.

[15] The primary source of nitrogen oxides in the South is the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial boilers, motor vehicles, and other internal combustion engines. Nitrogen oxides also are emitted during the burning of biomass — in open fields, recovery furnaces of pulp mills, other space and water heating furnaces, stoves, incinerators, etc., and from well-fertilized crop lands, pastures, and lawns. Under some meteorological conditions, nitrogen oxide production from lightning may be significant. Source: Southern Oxidant Study, www2.ncsu.edu/ncsu/CIL/southern_oxidants.

[16] Source: Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, 2001 Annual Air Quality Report.

[17]  2003 EPA Intended Designations (Not Final), www.epa.gov/ozonedesignations/documents/03Recommendations/4/s/Georgia_R.pdf

[18] Source: Southern Oxidant Study, www2.ncsu.edu/ncsu/CIL/southern_oxidants.

[20] EPA, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter: Final Rule.

[21] Clear skies Initiative is Hazy,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, www.cei.org/gencon/025,03622.cfm

[22] “Particulate Air Pollution: Weighing the Risks” by Joel Schwarz, October 2003, Competitive Enterprise Institute www.cei.org/pdf/3452.pdf

[23] Recommendations received by EPA Region 4, www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/documents/04Recommendations/4/s/Georgia_R.pdf

[24] Joseph Bast and Jay Lehr, “The Increasing Sustainability of Cars, Trucks and the Internal Combustion Engine” Policy Study no 95 (Chicago, Heartland Institute, 22 June 2000)

[25] Joel Schwarz, “No Way Back: Why Air Pollution will continue to decline,” June 11, 2003, http://www.aei.org/docLib/20031104_NoWayBack.pdf.

[26] Environmental Protection Agency

[27] Georgia Department of Transportation’s Study of Hourly Truck Movements Around Atlanta, by Street Smarts, April 22, 2003

[28]Past regulations to curb smog and particulate matter from California trucks just pushed companies to border states where laws are more relaxed. Now just 2 percent of the trucks on California roads are registered here and abide by state pollution controls.”  “Smog war stymied: Air quality gets worse after years of progress,” by Kerry Cavanaugh, L.A. Daily News, February 21, 2004

[29] “Diesel Exhaust in the United States,” EPA, www.epa.gov/otaq/retrofit/documents/f02048.pdf

[30] “EPA Could Take Additional Steps to Help Maximize the Benefits from the 2007 Diesel Emissions Standards,” General Accounting Office, www.gao.gov/new.items/d04313.pdf

[31] http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/htmlemail/images/mercuryemissions.gif

[32] “Stop the Bush Air Pollution Plan,” Natural Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org/air/pollution/qbushplan.asp

[33] www.otcair.org

[34] Asthma and Indoor Environments, www.epa.gov/asthma/triggers/index.html

[35] “Mercury’s fall from medicine to toxin,” Harold Brown, www.gppf.org/article.asp?RT=6&p=pub/Environment/mercury.htm

[36] A committee of the National Research Council concluded that many state vehicle-emissions inspection programs should limit their focus to the highest-polluting vehicles, specifically older, malfunctioning ones. According to the report, older and malfunctioning vehicles compose a relatively small fraction of the nation’s fleet but emit half of the pollutants. Source: AASHTO Journal, 2001.

[37]  www.tripnet.org/AtlantaCongestionStudyMay2003.PDF

[38]  “2003 Urban Mobility Report,” Texas Transportation Institute, 2003,

http://mobility.tamu.edu

[39] ibid.

[40] FY 2002 Georgia Department of Transportation Fact Book

[41] Forbes magazine, www.forbes.com/forbes/2003/0317/154.html

[42] http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15b.pdf

[43] http://www.perimetergo.org/Business_Solutions/tax_breaks.html

[44] “A Green Roof Would Have Improved Eva’s Penthouse View,” by Robert Ryan

 www.gppf.org/article.asp?search=1&p=pub/environment/greenroofs.htm


The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (August 17, 2004). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the affiliation is cited.

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