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An air of hope

Published August 10, 2013 10:34 pm

Formula for improving our air
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utahns, more emphatically than anyone else in the nation, did not vote for Barack Obama to be president of the United States. Either time.

So it is perhaps ironic that the state's plan to reduce the amount of pollution that poisons its air, especially in the winter, could be summed up by the caption of Obama's most famous campaign poster: Hope.

Utah Division of Air Quality officials will be watching today as a computer churns through a set of numbers and assumptions and decides whether their plan for reducing air pollution will do enough to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards. Of three major factors in the equation, two will be things that agency managers have no control over and can do no more than cross their institutional fingers.

One hope is that updated numbers for the status quo, the amount of pollution being generated now and reasonably expected in future, are better than those that have resulted in the awful haze that covers the area many days each winter.

Another hope is that the federal government (led by the guy we didn't vote for) will go through with what may, indeed, be the single biggest step that could be taken to protect our air and our lungs. That's the new rules for automobile engines and fuels, known as Tier 3, that stand to do more than anything else to cut down on pollution.

To be fair to Utah government, all the way up to Gov. Gary Herbert, automobile pollution is a huge factor for every community that has air-quality problems. And, while Herbert can be criticized for just asking people to drive less even as he puts billions into new highways and touts boondoggle fossil fuel projects as the future of our economy, any real move to make cars cleaner would always be beyond his reach.

Auto efficiency and fuel standards have to be national. Tier 3 is such a standard. Going through with it would do a lot to improve Utah's air.

The third factor, something that may yet require either unprecedented state efforts or aggressive federal intervention, will be much tighter rules for emissions from the area's refineries, power plants and other industrial sources.

DAQ officials say they are hopeful about their ongoing talks with the owners of those sources. But, unless state officials have a cudgel in their back pocket, and the willingness to use it, that part of the formula isn't going to get us there.

It's going to take resolve, dedication and, if necessary, government crackdowns on a scale that no Utah leader has so far dared to imagine.

Well, we can always hope.