Critics blast state plan to clean up Utah’s winter pollution
Environment • Business, government and public say PM 2.5 proposals need work.
Published: November 12, 2012 04:30PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 11:32PM

A state panel is pushing forward with regulations to cut Utah’s winter pollution despite a rash of criticism from an array of Utahns — from health-minded citizens to small bakeries to big industry.

The Utah Air Quality Board voted on a dozen regulations aimed at PM 2.5 pollution, microscopic soot that sometimes gets trapped in Utah’s mountain valleys in winter and causes health problems, from scratchy throats and asthma attacks to premature death from heart attacks.

And, even while their concerns echoed some of those that critics had expressed, board members began to finalize the package of 22 regulations. They are determined to meet a mid-December deadline for telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency how the state plans to cut the number of days that pollution spikes to unhealthy levels each winter in the valleys where the vast majority of Utahns live, from the Idaho line south through Utah County.

Brock LeBaron, deputy director of the Utah Air Quality Division, noted the state’s engineers did not discover any easy pollution solutions during more than three years of studying the problem. Many of the simple answers already in use — such as emission controls on industrial smokestacks — are simply not enough.

That means ordinary Utahns — whose driving and woodburning and use of solvents, for instance — are being called upon to do more to cut key pollutants. And they don’t like it, LeBaron said.

“For us,” he said, “it’s a problem we’re all involved in.”

Meanwhile, air-quality staff continues to comb through the dozens of comments received in recent months about the proposed regulations.

Some commenters suggested still more possible solutions. One is the woman who advised developing nuclear power to reduce pollution caused by coal-burning power plants. Others came from a woman proposing more mass transit and a man who urged lowering speed limits to 50 mph, which reduces pollution emissions.

Bakeries complained about not being included in the discussion. Lawyers for the industry pushed for more time to study the state’s proposals and their impacts, as did attorneys for health- and environmental-interest groups.

“The refinery representatives are concerned,” said Jim Holtkamp, representing the Utah Manufacturers Association, “that the fast pace of the [plan] development process has not allowed adequate input, review and decision-making needed for a complete” plan.

Even government agencies griped.

Carl Daly, of the EPA’s Denver office, said Utah’s package needed “additional development and analysis [… so it] can be approved by EPA.”

And Cache County stepped forward with its own alternative for an emissions-testing program — a solution the state has called the only proven way to cut pollution from cars and trucks that are such a big problem in the Cache Valley. Chief Deputy County Attorney Don Linton reasserted his legal opinion that the state cannot force vehicle emissions tests without the county’s consent, and County Executive M. Lynn Lemon also objected.

But a couple of citizens said they support the tests. Nancy Pitblado wrote, “Clean air is something I need for my health and welfare.”

Attorney Joel Ban noted that the state’s solutions just won’t be enough to meet the Clean Air Act standards. And what improvements they make won’t happen fast enough.

“Citizens should not have to wait eight years for the state to get to a level that would be considered ‘safe’ under a standard that would still cause significant harm to human health,” he wrote in public comments. “More serious attempts at pollution reduction and shared sacrifice among state government, local citizens and corporate polluters are imperative.”

Kennecott’s regulatory chief, Chris Kaiser, submitted a 60-page critique of the state’s pollution-cutting plan, asserting that there’s proof that the copper company’s operations only have “a minor impact on the Salt Lake Valley airshed,” especially during the inversions when pollution gets bad.

Under the current proposal, the state isn’t requiring the mining company to commit to pollution controls beyond what it already plans.

“Kennecott appreciates the substantial efforts that the [air-quality division] has put forth in developing a plan, and we believe that much of the proposed plan, including control measures, is sound and will contribute to improving air,” he wrote in conclusion.

“However, there are significant uncertainties that remain in the plan’s development that must be resolved.”

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah