Utah's pollution-regulation agency was right to move ahead with a new rule that says industries that do more polluting than their permits allow will be penalized unless they can prove they somehow were not at fault. A federal court says so.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver last week refused to review a federal Environmental Protection Agency regulation that the Utah Department of Environmental Quality adopted last month. US Magnesium, a mining and mineral-processing operation southwest of the Great Salt Lake, argued that the EPA hadn't followed proper procedure when it adopted the tougher rule, but the court wisely found that argument sadly lacking.
The whole issue of Utah's lax anti-pollution regulations governing accidental releases originally landed in court when an environmental group, WildEarth Guardians, labeled the state's industry-friendly "unavoidable breakdown rule" a "loophole" and filed suit.
The 30-year-old state regulation assumed a company was innocent until proven guilty of negligence when an accident or breakdown occurred. EPA changed its policy in 1999 to hold companies accountable for excess pollution, and Utah came up with a tighter state rule only after the EPA threatened to take over part of Utah's air-quality program.
Still, despite objections from big polluters and the US Magnesium lawsuit, the state DEQ commendably moved forward with the updated rule to coincide with the EPA's.
If this is, indeed, the end of the drawn-out legal wrangling over this issue, as it appears, Utah's 1,200 biggest polluters will finally have to do more to prevent breakdowns that temporarily spew even more chemicals into the air than usual. That is welcome news for the thousands of Utahns who struggle to breathe during summertime heavy-ozone days and winter inversions.
Industries that are allowed to do a certain amount of polluting will no longer be able to simply apologize for "accidents," fill out a report and merrily go along without making substantial changes to the way they operate.
Now the state can, and should, issue a Clean Air Act citation with fines hefty enough to motivate those businesses to make changes, even expensive changes if necessary, to avoid future penalties.
The state agency charged with protecting the environment, and the health of people living in it, should never allow a company of any size to get away with needlessly poisoning the Beehive State's air with virtual impunity.