A pro-business group is asking state lawmakers to cap the fee Iowa industries pay for releasing emissions into the air. The state currently charges $56 a ton for air pollution emissions. But the Department of Natural Resources has proposed raising the fee to $65 a ton later this year. Nicole Molt with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry says that’s unreasonable in this economy.

“In the last five years some industries have seen a 71% increase in fees,” Molt says, “Those same companies are facing layoffs, and cuts in their budget.” Molt says companies should be rewarded for reducing emissions. More than 275 companies, power plants, and landfills pay the state a fee for emitting pollutants into the air.

The money is used to fund the Department of Natural Resources Air Quality Bureau, so when emissions drop, the state raises the fees to cover the shortfall. “That’s why industry gets so frustrated, there’s no economic incentive to them to not pollute,” Molt says.

D.N.R. Air Quality bureau chief, Catherine Fitzsimmons, says the fee was never intended to provide an incentive; it was simply to cover the cost of the regulatory agency. “Because one of the big activities that we do is we help sources define how they can operate and not end up with more onerous regulations,” Fitzsimmons says.

Fitzsimmons says a cap on the fees would cost her agency five million dollars and 25 employees. “One of the significant elements that is defunded would be much of our ambient air monitoring network,” Fitzsimmons says, “those are the monitors that are scattered across the state that tell us whether or not where you live has air that is clean or safe for you.”

Fitzsimmons says the cap on the fees would require the agency to consider other ways to raise money, including requiring a new air quality construction permit or increasing fees on Iowa’s largest polluters.