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(Judy Fahys | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protecting air-quality in the southwestern corner of Utah has become a community affair, with industry and government joining with health and environmental advocates to deal with the dust and soot pollution. A task force has developed guidelines and regulations aimed at keeping the air clean while allowing growth to continue.
Utah’s Dixie fights to save a vital resource: clean air

Environment » Various interests come together around quality of life, quality of air.

First Published Jun 20 2012 11:18 pm • Last Updated Jun 21 2012 12:09 am

St. George » Good quality of life is a term you’re likely to hear when you talk to someone about the lure of Utah’s southwestern corner.

And, while some might highlight the web of bike trails or redrock hiking, parks or golfing, almost everyone mentions the area’s clean, often crystalline air. Protecting that air quality here has become a rallying point for business, government and advocates for health and the environment.

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"Lots of people move here for the quality of life and clean air," said Gail Bunker, a member of the St. George City Council. "We’ve got to have good air quality to have people participating in these [outdoor] activities."

"As a city, we’re trying to protect the citizens. We want to be proactive, ahead of the curve."

In other parts of the state, cleaning up the air is not a matter of choice but necessity.

In Utah’s urban heart, the Utah Division of Air Quality has a small army of specialists working full-time on solutions to sooty and dusty pollution on the Wasatch Front that violates the federal Clean Air Act and worries health advocates.

Up north, Cache County is brainstorming fixes for the nasty episodes of microscopic soot called PM 2.5 that sometimes blights the valley basin in winter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants the plan done by the year’s end.

East, in the Uinta Basin, the EPA already has put state and local leaders on notice that unexpectedly high ozone or smoggy pollution in the winter is a problem requiring speedy attention.

Taking action » Here in Washington County, preserving air quality is not mandated but mainstreamed.

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Prompted by the super-hot, super-dusty building boom a few years ago, local agencies started fielding complaints about the plants that make construction materials and the construction itself. They zeroed in on the visible signs of pollution, especially dust that has died down along with the building boom.

Meanwhile, state regulators focused on invisible ozone, or smog, that is created by vehicle exhaust and other airborne chemicals that become hazardous after cooking in the sun. Over a five-year period, the state logged 33 "yellow" air quality days at the St. George and Santa Clara monitors and 71 at Zion National Park.

At greatest risk for health problems are retirees who’d moved from northern Utah and children whose families had settled here to be near grandparents and good jobs Outdoor recreationists grouse about the dust too.

St. George Mayor Dan McArthur responded with the Southern Utah Clean Air Task Force and, in recent years, an annual air-quality summit.

"I hate mandates," he said, sharing the idea behind trying to build a consensus around the problem.

"We don’t want to be more strict than we have to," he said, "but we want to make sure we have clean air."

Local groups — from the Citizens for Dixie’s Future to the Associated General Contractors — came together and developed a carrot-and-stick approach. Bryan Rodgers represents the area’s 100-company construction industry on the task force.

"We just wanted to make sure we’re invited to the table when any kind of regulations are discussed," he said.

Now trucks are required to cover their loads, keep dirt off the roads and water work sites. Construction crews must stop jobs when the wind gets strong enough to stir up the dust.

An intensive education program by the trade groups reminds members to limit idling and play by the same anti-pollution rules their competitors face.

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