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(Keith Johnson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Inversion hangs over Salt Lake City December 11, 2013.
Editorial: Wasatch Front can’t wait for Tier 3

Utah should protect its own air

First Published Mar 06 2014 05:36 am • Last Updated Mar 07 2014 09:06 am

Put the right spin on it, and the Utah political caste’s habitual contempt for the federal government in general — and the Environmental Protection Agency in particular — may actually do us some good.

The EPA Monday put the finishing touches on a net set of regulations that will move the nation toward the use of what’s called Tier 3 fuels for automobiles.

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The good news is this new formulation, when in wide use, will do much less damage to the atmosphere and to the lungs of all Americans, mainly because the emissions of the vehicles that burn it will be much lower in sulfur.

The bad news is the rules won’t come into full force until 2025. The worse news is Utah’s Wasatch Front might never see the full benefit of the new chemistry. Like many other rules designed for a whole country, there are loopholes and delays, the kinds of exceptions through which the old and relatively small refineries that supply Utah might escape.

That matters here, more than in most of the country, because the kinds of fuels our soaring number of cars and trucks burn now are a major cause of the horrible air quality suffered all around northern Utah, especially during the winter inversion season.

The EPA has calculated which American counties would gain the most from the implementation of Tier 3 regulations. The top seven are in Utah. That’s why Tier 3 implementation is key to the cleaner air plans put forward by Gov. Gary Herbert and his Clean Air Action Team.

So it is time for Utah elected officials — and those who would like to be Utah elected officials — to put a new blade on their anti-Washington tool. Instead of always bad-mouthing Uncle Sam for trying to mess things up with overly harsh regulations, we ought to be demanding rules, at least in this case, that are tighter, firmer and faster.

A committee of the Utah House took a step in that direction Monday, passing a non-binding resolution from Rep. Patrice ArentHJR23 — that urges the state Department of Environmental Quality to work with EPA to get the new gas into Utah tanks as soon as possible.

But the Legislature needs to stop making entreaties and start making demands. It should pass HB121, the bill by Rep. Becky Edwards, which would explicitly direct DEQ to make its own rules, rules that are tougher and more helpful to Utah than what the far-away EPA is likely to accomplish.

If the government that governs best is the one closest to home, then the air in Utah ought to be cleaned up by the government that, along with the rest of us, has to breathe this awful stuff.

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