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Utah regulators seek public input on pollution-cutting plan

Published October 16, 2012 5:05 pm

Clean air • State plans for meeting federal standards will affect residents and business.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Orem • Graphic printers and auto-body shops fretted aloud Tuesday about the new costs they will shoulder with the state's plans for cleaning up winter pollution.

And, although they lent a sympathetic ear, air-quality regulators had bigger worries looming as they held the second of four public meetings on a pollution-cutting plan expected to affect just about everyone in northern Utah.

With around three years of brainstorming already behind them and just two months before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects their final plan, the Utah Division of Air Quality team hasn't been able to figure out exactly how to cut pollution enough to comply with federal law.

"This plan is incomplete at this point," Bryce Bird, director of the state air-quality office, said at Tuesday's hearing.

And it's crunch time for the state.

The plan due in mid-December has to cover all three areas of northern Utah plagued with episodes of high PM 2.5 pollution in winter, and in each area there's a problem.

In Cache County, leaders have rejected an auto emission-testing plan that is crucial to cleaning up the air enough to meet the federal standard of fewer than seven days over three consecutiveyears when PM 2.5 pollution is too high.

The math doesn't add up in Utah County and the Salt Lake County area (which includes parts of Tooele, Box Elder and Weber counties along with Salt Lake and Davis counties).

Even after looking at dozens of ways to cut pollution from smokestacks, vehicles and other urban sources and weaving them into the plan, the Salt Lake County area still needs another 4.2 tons of reductions and Utah County homes and businesses need to cut 5.2 tons — and that estimate builds in a five-year extension the state's already planning to request.

If Utah can't submit a plan that EPA can approve, it could mean new restrictions on construction and a freeze on funds for road building.

Larry Ballard, retired Orem Fire Marshal and Constitution Party candidate for the Utah County Commission, questioned whether federal regulations for particulate matter are based on good science.

"The EPA drives this and holds Utah hostage," he said after commenting on the state's proposal. "That's the political issue behind this."

But others who attended Tuesday's meeting just wanted to know more. In the auto-body industry, there was concern about new equipment and products that might be required. And, for printers, the estimated costs of compliance — more than $500,000 — would be higher than profits of all the small shops in the county, one industry representative said.

"Tell us what you want us to do, how to do it," said Brad Wallin, whose customers include many auto-body shops that use solvent-based products the state wants to phase out.

Meanwhile, Carol Walters, a grandmother and Vice Chairwoman of the Utah Valley Earth Forum, praised the state's air-quality team for its work and for industry's contributions too.

"All of us have to breathe," she said. "We all have to be concerned about air quality."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah —

More on PM 2.5 plans

The public comment period on plans to control PM 2.5 pollution continues through Oct. 31. To find out more about these plans you can see online video about the issue and learn more about the public hearings scheduled for Salt Lake City on Wednesday by looking at this web page: http://1.usa.gov/Q7LSlR

In addition, you can review the 15 regulations online: http://1.usa.gov/fFdl33

Federal regulators say Utah needs to clean up this pollution because, in northern valleys, microscopic soot from exhaust gets trapped in cold air during winter inversions and periodically makes the area's air quality among the nation's worst for days or weeks at a time. Times when pollution concentrations average more than 35 micrograms PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air for a day are considered violations of the Clean Air Act.

Many Utahns welcome the controls to address the health impacts, which can range from burning eyes to asthma hospitalizations and even premature death from lung and heart problems.