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Utah Governor moves to help businesses, schools reduce emissions

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(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City's historic Rio Grande station is seen in this view looking west from the intersection at 300 S 400 West on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 just as the evening commute starts on a day when the city is cloaked in pollution from an inversion.

Cleaner school buses, grants to small businesses and research are the main pieces of an $18 million bag of carrots Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposes handing out next year to improve air quality.

Much of the proposed spending is designed to help school districts and small businesses reduce emissions that add to the particulate and ozone levels in Utah valleys. This pollution often makes the air unhealthy and drags economic growth.

“There is a larger commitment from the governor with fewer funds. This is the most [spent on air quality] in the state’s history,” said Herbert’s budget director Kristen Cox.

The governor’s staff outlined Herbert’s air-quality plan earlier this month while rolling out the state’s $13.3 billion budget. The Legislature will get a say in the upcoming session, where several anti-pollution measures are expected to be aired.

Herbert wants to spend $14 million to retrofit buses with cleaner-burning diesel engines or replace them with ones powered by compressed natural gas. About half of this money would be spent to build fueling stations and the other half would go into a revolving loan fund, which districts would be invited to tap and replenish.

“It will save money in the long run,” because compressed natural gas is cheaper, Cox said. “The savings is a way to pay it back and help other school districts move forward.”

The state recently adopted plans for getting Utah and Salt Lake valleys into compliance with federal standards for fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. These plans phase in 23 new regulations on so-called “area sources” of pollution.

Herbert wants to establish a grant program, administered by the Utah Clean Air Partnership, to help small business, such as auto-body and furniture shops, comply with these new rules. These rules typically require new equipment, materials and processes for applying finishes. Many large shops have already adopted paints and degreasers low in volatile organic compounds, which require new applicators and employee training. But such investments might not be economical for small outfits, and financial assistance is warranted, according Bryce Bird, director of the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ).

“It doesn’t pay for everything. They have to match,” Bird said. “Seed money like this with their investments could go a long way to make sure they have the right equipment and right solvents in place.”

Herbert’s carrot bag does hold a couple sticks, mainly in the form of new DAQ staffers to enforce anti-emission rules, such as the periodic bans on wood burning. The governor intends to add four people and new equipment to the 97-employee division, at a cost of about $800,000. Two of the new staffers would be assigned to the Uinta Basin, which is experiencing a boom in oil and gas development. The division wants to drop $100,000 on an infrared camera needed to detect gas leaks.

The final piece of the package is $1 million devoted to research whose findings officials hope will help ensure policy decisions are based on sound science.

bmaffly@sltrib.com

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