We all feel frustration when pollution builds during our winter inversions, threatening our health, trapping us indoors and bruising the pride we feel in our state. That we have cut emissions along the Wasatch Front almost in half since the 1990s provides faint comfort on bleak inversion days.
If there’s a silver lining in the gray inversion cloud, it’s that our collective awareness of the impacts of air pollution and our commitment to action have increased. Under Gov. Gary Herbert’s leadership, the state is taking unprecedented steps to improve air quality.
The state recently approved a plan to reduce emissions by 100 tons per day and meet the new, tougher federal standards by 2019. Under the plan, all major industrial sources—which contribute about 11 percent of our winter pollution—must install the Best Available Control Technology. This will reduce emissions from industry by 4,600 tons per year. Our refineries will be among the cleanest in the nation.
In addition, the state enacted 23 new rules that reduce emissions from wood stoves and boilers and from small commercial sources such as restaurants, dry cleaners and printing shops. Vehicles contribute nearly 60 percent of winter pollution. The plan anticipates that our increasingly efficient vehicle fleet and transportation plans will cut emissions from cars and trucks in half.
This plan is a good step, but it is only a piece of the air-quality strategy. We want cleaner air before 2019. Achieving that goal without overly constraining personal freedom requires that we also use some non-regulatory tools.
The state is leading by example by replacing much of its fleet with alternative-fuel vehicles, idling in state vehicles is prohibited, all agencies are implementing strategies to reduce employee driving, and all state employees within the UTA service territory are provided transit passes. UDOT’s TravelWise program helps the private sector take similar steps.
The governor has petitioned the EPA to finalize the so-called “Tier 3” rule, which would establish more stringent emissions standards for new vehicles and gasoline. Tier 3 vehicles would emit up to 80 percent less pollution than today’s new cars.
Gov. Herbert made air quality a priority in his budget, proposing $18 million to replace old school buses with cleaner versions, provide incentives for small businesses to reduce emissions, improve research and enforcement, and make state buildings more energy efficient.
Addressing the pollution that comes from everyday living requires we change some of our habits. To help accomplish this, the governor created the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), now an independent nonprofit. UCAIR and Envision Utah, supported by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, will soon launch a media campaign to inform residents how they can reduce their share of emissions. Earlier this month, UCAIR distributed $350,000 in grants to several community organizations to provide free transit passes, install electric vehicle charging stations, change out wood-burning stoves, help local communities incorporate air quality into their planning efforts, and more.
As part of the governor’s 10-Year Energy Plan, a group of experts has drafted a State Energy Efficiency and Conservation Plan that outlines strategies to reduce energy use in homes, industry, transportation, agriculture and other sectors, improving our air.
With continuing population growth, it will take additional action to further reduce emissions. The governor created the Clean Air Action Team (CAAT) to analyze all viable strategies—regulatory and non-regulatory—to improve air quality. The CAAT is analyzing nearly 80 potential strategies and is framing a range of recommendations for public input and discussion.
As frustrating as it is, we can’t control the inversions, but we do have some control over the emissions captured in our mountain valleys during those inversions. We all contribute to the problem, so we must all contribute to the solution. We invite all Utahns to join the governor in taking constructive steps to continue our progress toward clean air.
Alan Matheson is Gov. Gary Herbert’s senior environmental adviser.