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Editorial: State air plan goes too easy on industry

Published January 11, 2014 1:01 am

Air standards too light on industry
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"The First Rule of Holes is that when you are in one, you should stop digging. To keep right on doing what is already causing disastrous consequences is either insane or profoundly stupid." — Molly Ivins

Actually making the air that hangs over the Wasatch Front cleaner any time soon is going to be quite a reach. Even more so if state regulators allow anyone to do anything that makes it dirtier.

The Utah Air Quality Board Wednesday approved a set of standards that places some limits on industrial pollution and counts on federal action — specifically the stricter auto efficiency standards — for other good effects. But, as environmental activists and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rightly pointed out, the standards are far too forgiving of some other industrial processes.

The Utah State Implementation Plan, as approved, places some industrial machinery when it is starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning — all of which are dirtier processes than when they are humming along at normal speed — in a different regulatory category. That means the city that is often marked as having the worst air quality in the nation will see an overall increase in air pollution from those sources of 12 percent through the year 2019.

That's enough to offset gains from some tighter rules on the area's oil refineries. And it means that the state will, in the process of saving a handful of giant installations some money, shift the burden to smaller businesses and motorists.

Division of Air Quality officials say it isn't as bad as it seems. They say there will be more rounds of regulations that will offer a chance to crack down further on all pollution sources. And they say that writing the rules as they have means that companies won't be able to count past improvements toward future requirements.

At the same time, though, it is clear that the Air Quality Board has passed up a golden opportunity to require every pollution source in its jurisdiction to use the latest and most effective technologies and practices. Of course, as long as the board is chaired by an executive from big-time polluter Kennecott Utah Copper and includes, by law, several other industry representatives, it might be too much to expect that it would do otherwise.

We are told that barely 11 percent of the pollution in our air, particularly the PM2.5 particles that do so much damage to lungs and hearts, comes from big industry. But passing up an opportunity to clean up any source is irresponsible. And deadly.