It’s ironic that, as the reddest state in the Union, Utah’s best chance for reaching a more survivable level of winter air pollution depends on the Democratic Obama administration’s more-stringent vehicle-emissions standards.
The state Air Quality Board has approved a draft plan to bring Wasatch Front airsheds into compliance with federal standards by the end of 2019. While it includes some voluntary reductions in the toxins spewed into the air by mines, refineries and power plants, the biggest reductions in air pollutants will come as new cars and trucks meet federal requirements for higher mileage and fewer emissions.
Utah regulators have been working on a plan for nearly four years, since the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush set tougher standards to reduce the microscopic soot known as PM2.5.
The state’s goal is to avoid a crackdown by the EPA in which the federal agency would take its own steps to force reductions, including cutting the Beehive State’s federal transportation funding.
But last spring the state’s proposals to improve air quality still fell short of the EPA standard — 35 micrograms of PM2.5 pollution per cubic meter of air. The board found it needed to reduce pollution another 10 percent in the six counties from Utah County to Box Elder County.
Utah County needed to cut another 10 tons of emissions, and the Salt Lake nonattainment area, including parts of Box Elder, Tooele, Davis and Weber counties, needed to eliminate another 22 tons of pollution.
The Air Quality Board resorted to a set of new regulations aimed at small businesses and the public, including limiting the fumes from hairspray and other consumer products, requiring lower-fume paints and cleaner commercial grills.
But when it comes to industrial polluters, including Kennecott mines, coal-fired power plants and the oil refineries in North Salt Lake, Utah regulators can only ask politely for emission reductions. The state Legislature restricts the board from enforcing any standards more stringent than federal standards, which are not designed for areas with severe soot problems like the Salt Lake Valley. And lawmakers have done nothing to entice commuters to ride mass transit.
Legislators and elected officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, are not about to infringe on the "right" of industry to dump its toxic waste directly into the air we breathe. Corporations’ bottom lines, along with generous campaign contributions, must be more important to them than the health of ordinary Utahns who lack the clout of the big polluters.
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