Utah lawmaker: Our atmosphere needs more carbon dioxide
Air quality • Bill would exempt CO2 and other “natural” gases from regulation.
Published: February 19, 2014 07:47AM
Updated: February 19, 2014 07:53AM

Arguing that we need more carbon dioxide, not less, in the atmosphere, Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, has proposed legislation that would limit the state’s ability to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas.

HB229 narrows the definition of the term “air contaminants,” clarifying that “natural components of the atmosphere,” including nitrogen, oxygen and other stable, or noble gases, are not pollution.

Anderson’s bill would prevent the establishment of state standards for carbon dioxide below atmospheric concentrations of 500 parts per million. This is a level far above what is currently in the atmosphere, already padded with carbon thanks to two centuries of fossil-fuel burning.

“We are short of carbon dioxide for the needs of the plants,” Anderson, a retired science teacher, told the committee overseeing environmental programs in the the state on Tuesday. “Concentrations reached 600 parts per million at the time of the dinosaurs and they did quite well. I think we could double the carbon dioxide and not have any adverse effects.”

Such claims are at odds with credible climate science, according to Joe Andrade, a retired University of Utah engineering professor. Carbon levels at 500 ppm would warm the planet and acidify the oceans to a devastating degree, he said.

“We are on a path to double the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere since we started burning fossil fuels. We can all see the chaotic weather that it has already produced,” Andrade said. “It’s not toxic to you and me below concentrations of 1,000 or 2,000 [parts per million], but it’s toxic to this planet. Setting an arbitrary upper limit, that is out of the bounds of anything related to planetary stability, is simply bad government.”

While Anderson’s climate change skepticism enjoyed a receptive hearing from committee members, they voted to hold the bill.

A key hang up was the noble gas radon, which abounds naturally in Utah and poses an undeniable threat to human health. Also occurring in nature are cyanide and xenon, which can poison people.

“Xenon is a noble gas and it’s an anesthetic. You don’t want to exclude it [from regulation] because you might have a pharmaceutical device that uses xenon. A leak in a confined space could be quite hazardous,” Andrade said.

Ozone plays a beneficial role in the atmosphere, blocking ultraviolet radiation, but near the ground this oxygen molecule is considered pollution because of its corrosive properties. The state aims to curb ozone pollution, a component of smog that damages the lungs.

A Senate bill, meanwhile, is challenging federal regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. On Wednesday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee will consider a resolution calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to relax proposed greenhouse-gas emission standards for new coal-fired generating stations.

New EPA rules limit new power plants’ emissions to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity generated.

Sen. David Hinkins, R- Orangeville, contends the rules would require coal-fired plants to install carbon capture and sequestration equipment on coal-fired plants.

Because this technology is not yet economically practical, the federal rule would impede the use of coal in power generation, according to Hinkins, who represents the coal-rich Emery and Carbon counties and is sponsor of SCR9.

It asks the EPA to provide separate standards for coal-fueled steam electric and natural gas combined-cycle generating units, with requirements “that can be achieved with commercially demonstrated technologies and that will permit the economic utilization of all types of domestic coals.”

bmaffly@sltrib.com