Tribune Editorial: Three cheers for Utah refiners embracing Tier III

First Published      Last Updated Apr 21 2017 01:45 pm

So it's not like we can all hold our breath until 2019, but at least we can hold some hope.

When Gov. Gary Herbert held a ceremonial signing this week of a bill to incentivize Utah refiners to make cleaner gasoline, he also announced that one of the biggest refiners, Chevron, is taking the state up on the incentives.

With Tesoro earlier committing to producing Tier III fuels and other refineries having to comply, too, cleaner gasoline should become dominant along the Wasatch Front's pollution-trapping valleys starting in 2019.

The refiners with multi-state operations (Tesoro and Chevron) had the option of cleaning up their fuels elsewhere. They just had to meet a federal standard across all their refineries. It's been a multi-year negotiation, but Utah legislators passed Senate Bill 197 this year with the specific aim of getting Chevron to the table. Chevron, for its part, says the tax break is great, but the cost of upgrading is well above the tax benefit. They're doing it, they say, because they live here, too.

Refining oil into gasoline is itself a pollution-generating activity. The refineries north of Salt Lake City have a long history, one that goes back to the days when air pollution was taken as a sign of progress. Today, those refineries produce 3 percent of our air pollution. That's easier to accept if they're also reducing the 55 percent that comes from vehicles.

And cleaner fuels are just part of an evolving picture for air quality in Utah, a picture that is looking increasingly better, even as our population continues to grow. Not only are the fuels getting cleaner, the cars are getting leaner. Once Utah can get enough old cars off the road that its fleet is meeting 2017 EPA emissions standards, the combined effect could lower vehicle pollution by 70 percent or so, best case.

And that's just the gas burners. We're also seeing a potential blossoming in electric vehicles, which produce zero emissions where they're driven. (In Utah, they're recharged through a coal-dominated power grid, although those coal emissions are generated outside the polluted valleys.)

There could even come a day when vehicles are not the biggest polluters along the Wasatch Front. If that happens, we'll still be breathing tons of pollutants annually, with our homes and buildings the dominant generator. Now that we have vehicles on the right road, anybody up for bringing our building codes up to the same standards?