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Editorial: New Utah air quality rules fall far short of the need

Published December 6, 2013 11:55 am

Air quality rules fall far short of need
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

A new set of rules approved the other day by the Utah Air Quality Board was not nearly aggressive enough in fighting the poisoning of the air along the Wasatch Front.

But, given the weakness of the state laws on the subject, and a board membership that is, by law, overly weighted in favor of industry interests, a different result would have been unexpected.

Prodded by the Environmental Protection Agency and its interpretations of the federal Clean Air Act, Utah state officials have indeed spent years coming up with what's called a SIP, or State Implementation Plan.

That is supposed to get a handle on the many pollutants that are spilled into our air, and the things that become pollutants after they are released, catalyzed by the sun and interaction with other substances and get trapped by the area's oppressive, though totally natural, atmospheric inversions.

But the industry-friendly make-up of the board, catalyzed by a Utah Legislature that seriously limits the Division of Air Quality's power to do anything more assertive than the minimums required by the feds, means the plan falls far short of a road map that would be designed by any system that was truly intended to put the public's health above private interests.

It must have been an awkward moment when a spokesman for Utah Kennecott Copper, Kyle Bennett, told the board, chaired by Kennecott executive Steven Sands, that the rules were going to require their employer's Bingham Canyon mine to install pollution control technologies that do not yet exist.

The plan seeks to reach attainment — or, at least, satisfy the EPA — by giving the state credit for other rules it has already put in place and by anticipating that tighter federal rules on automobile emissions will be as effective as advertised.

When the vast majority of air pollutants comes from auto tailpipes, and the regulation of those machines is best set on a federal level, that way of scoring the plan makes some sense. But it also is being used to cover for the fact that the plan, so far, does little new to force industrial polluters to ease their impact on our air, lungs, hearts and offspring.

If anything, oil refineries in the valley are expected to get significantly dirtier in the near future. Unless the feds crack down again.

This situation will not get better unless the Legislature demands it. And the Legislature will not demand it until the people do.