A traffic jam on Interstate 495 in Alexandria, Va.
A traffic jam on Interstate 495 in Alexandria, Va. - 
Listen To The Story


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Car owners could be the ones helping to pay off federal fines for pollution. Air quality regulators in California's San Joaquin Valley vote today on that proposal. A first, if approved, for slapping pollution fines on consumers along with companies. Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.

SARAH GARDNER: The San Joaquin Valley is facing a $29 million fine for speeding past its federal ozone limit. Regulators say local industries have reduced emissions. Now drivers should share the burden. Regulators propose an annual $10 to $24 surcharge on vehicle owners. Environmental economist Robert Costanza says this version of "the polluter pays" principle is misguided.

ROBERT COSTANZA: Because it sounds like this approach would be quite regressive in its effects on poor people."

Unemployment in California's Central Valley is especially high. And alternatives to driving are limited. Clean Air Watch president Frank O'Donnell says consumers need more transportation choices.

FRANK O'DONNELL: I would hope that the public would turn to the car companies and say, look, we need to drive cars that don't pollute at all.

Surcharge supporters point out that 80 percent of the Central Valley's smog comes from car and truck exhaust.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner