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Cleaning the Cache

Published September 11, 2012 1:01 am

Time to require emissions tests
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." — Pogo Possum

The planner for the Utah Division of Air Quality was wise to invoke the comic-strip philosopher of days gone by in explaining why northern Utah in general, and Cache County in particular, needs to take steps that include cracking down on the pollution emitted by motor vehicles.

Explaining the matter last week to the state's Air Quality Board, Dave McNeil, manager of the DAQ's planning branch, said that the increasing woes of breathers in the Cache Valley can't be blamed on one big factory or any foul stuff that drifts in from other climes.

It's our cars and trucks, our furnaces and wood stoves.

Or, as McNeil said, "We've identified the problem, and it's us."

Sadly, Cache County's representative on the board, County Councilman Craig Peterson, stood opposed to the draft regulations approved by the board last week. Which was at least consistent, given that his council voted down a vehicle emissions-testing program only last month.

But calling such a program, which has long been in operation in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah counties, a "sledgehammer" where the costs outweigh the benefits is not only shortsighted, it's a bad cost-benefit analysis.

Happily, the rest of the board voted to move the proposed rules along to the public comment process, which opens Oct. 1 and includes public hearings Oct. 15, 16 and 17.

Of particular concern are the particulates, specifically something called PM2.5. These are exceedingly tiny bits of soot that, in the temperature-inverted atmosphere of northern Utah during the winter, can build up enough in people's lungs to cause severe respiratory problems, especially among the very old and very young.

The best way to attack that problem, especially in a community that has very little heavy manufacturing to go after, is to make sure all the cars and trucks on the road are not exceeding emission limits.

A test, which costs $15 a year, is the key rule the county would need to impose. Not only is that a minor cost to most people, and helps to clean up the lungs of their families, it usually leaves cars that fail the test and undergo appropriate repairs with higher gas mileage. That saves more than enough to cover the household's testing fee.

Cache County officials have tried to deal with their air quality problems by ignoring them. They are still trying.

It won't work.