The air over the Utah State Capitol this winter has been thick with, well, it’s just been thick.
Enough so that our elected officials are starting not only to notice but also accept that they have a responsibility to do something about it.
The Legislature is considering a package of more than a dozen bills aimed at addressing the problem. That’s good.
What’s better is that Gov. Gary Herbert is rolling out some steps he can take without waiting for the Legislature, steps that will address a pair of the leading sources of the air pollution suffered during the atmospheric inversions that plague what should be the state’s beautifully bracing winter air.
One is directing the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of banning wood burning in places where air quality falls short of federal standards throughout the whole of the winter inversion season. That’s basically mid-December through the end of February.
These small sources have been shown to produce a hugely disproportionate share of harmful winter pollutants. And, as Herbert says, limiting the ban to just the worst days is not clear to residents and not enough to make a difference.
The other is to push for the local refining and use of what’s called Tier 3 gasoline. That’s a fuel with the potential to reduce certain kinds of pollutants by as much as 80 percent. Given that more than half of the nasty stuff that fouls our air each winter rises from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks, taking a big chunk out of that filth is a huge step forward.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is moving to make Tier 3 a national standard by 2017. But Herbert rightly wants Utah to move on its own to make sure that Utah’s small refineries aren’t allowed to fly under the EPA’s radar. Because they are among the nation’s smaller operations, and because big oil companies would be allowed to average out their production of the improved fuels rather than convert all of their operations, that is a real concern.
Across the entire nation, Herbert says, the top seven counties that would benefit the most from the conversion to Tier 3 fuels are all located in northern Utah. And the projected additional cost of the improved fuel ranges from a penny to 9 cents a gallon. Hardly a sacrifice for any motorist.
The fact that the national Tier 3 mandate might miss Utah is another reason why the Legislature should approve SB164, as Herbert favors. That’s a measure that would remove the handcuffs from the DEQ and allow it to make rules that fit Utah’s needs, not just piggy-back on EPA standards.
Utahns believe that they can govern their state better than the federal government can. Here’s a chance to prove it.
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