When a long, complicated and expensive permit process results in an oil refinery that will pump significantly more of some kinds of pollution into the already filthy atmosphere of a frequently bottled-up airshed, one must wonder: Whose side is our state government on?
Now, it is true that if the owners of the Holly Refinery in West Bountiful did not have to obtain a permit from the Utah Division of Air Quality, the carbon, nitrogen and sulfur compounds its proposed expansion would be pouring into our air would have no limit at all. And that would be bad.
It is also true that the permit approved Monday by the DAQ does anticipate some significant reductions in a few specific pollutants. In particular, the new equipment that is to come online along with the refinery's plan to process more of the gunky crude being dug out of eastern Utah's Uinta Basin is expected to make significant cuts in the amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
But, apparently, expecting a larger refinery to produce more gasoline with less total air pollution is more than Utah can ask. Utah law does not allow the DAQ, or any other state or local agency, to tell Holly, or any other industrial source of pollution, that it cannot expand, cannot change the type of raw materials it takes in or the kind of product it turns out.
State law does not allow Utah regulators to crack down on emissions any more than is necessary to fulfill some more general rules, rules that don't fully take into account the geographic and atmospheric deck that is stacked against us, laid down by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
And the fact that the Holly expansion is expected to increase the output of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global climate change, by some 270,000 tons annually doesn't officially matter, as CO2 regulations are still being designed and only now target electric generating facilities.
The DAQ is in the process of designing new regulations for the whole of the Salt Lake area airshed, to bring the region into compliance with EPA dictates and, probably, giving us another crack at cracking down on each of the several refineries that are sadly stuck in the middle of our urban area.
In a sane world or, at least, in a sane community subject to atmospheric inversions refineries and other industrial sources of air pollution would be expected to hold their emissions as they are, if not reduce them, no matter their capacity or number of jobs created.
If they can't manage that, they should shut down and move out. We'd even spot them a tank of gas to get them on their way.