Polluters may soon burn up money

Bay Area factories, power plants, hospitals, airlines, oil refineries and other businesses that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases may be among of the first in the nation to pay a tax to battle global warming.

Approximately 2,500 regional businesses would be subject to the fee, including nearly 200 San Francisco businesses, said Brian Bateman of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the regional agency scheduled to vote on the proposal today.

Seven companies in the Bay Area — all refineries and power plants in the East Bay — would pay more than $50,000 annually, but 1,650 businesses would be charged less than $1 a year, according to district documents. The fee would not be imposed upon vehicle emissions.

Although the fee is expected to do little to curb emissions, if approved, it sets a national precedent of charging for greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected to be implemented in July in the nine-county area overseen by the BAAQMD and generate $1.1 million annually, which would be used to supplement further climate-control programs, said district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano.

The largest producer of greenhouse gases in San Francisco is the Mirant Power Plant in Potrero Hill, which spews out 247,000 metric tons each year, a rate that would cost them $11,000 in fees at 4 cents per metric ton, Bateman said. The majority of The City’s businesses would be paying $1, due to modest emissions from generators.

Critics of the plan say the Bay Area should wait for the state to take charge of climate-control policies. In 2006, the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, a bill to lower current greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020.

In a letter directed to district board Chairman Jerry Hill, the California Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns, writing that the “regulation system at the Bay Area district will make Bay Area businesses less competitive because companies outside of the region will not face similar costs.”

The proposed program, which would require companies to measure and report their own emissions, could make it more complicated and expensive to do business in the Bay Area, said Shelly Sullivan, who heads the AB32 Implementation Group, a coalition of business groups working with state regulators to implement California’s global warming law.

If approved, the Bay Area’s emissions fee model would likely be folded into a similar statewide initiative planned for the future, according to Stanley Young of the California Air Resource Board, the state’s regulatory body.

Nationally, only Boulder, Colo., has implemented a similar greenhouse-gas fee.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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