Utah’s two Republican senators wasted no time objecting to a new federal standard on soot pollution, arguing the more stringent requirement would heap heavy penalties on some businesses and communities.
But state officials briefed by the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday are not worried.
"It will have no impact on anyone in Utah because we already meet the standard," said Dave McNeil, with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
That didn’t stop Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee from joining four other senators in sending a detailed complaint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Friday, the same day the agency announced its plans to drop the allowable level of fine particulate matter by 20 percent.
This rule, which met a court-ordered deadline, does not address spikes in fine particles in counties, which Utah regularly experiences because of weather systems trapped by the Wasatch Mountains, known as inversions. The rule instead focuses on an annual rate and so far Utah has not had any area exceed the current limits. According to The New York Times, the EPA estimates only seven counties in California are on track to violate the new standard by 2020, when it is expected to be fully implemented.
Fine particulate pollution, created by manufacturing plants and cars, has been linked to serious health concerns ranging from asthma to heart attacks.
Groups like the American Lung Association have championed a new air quality standard, while manufacturing associations have complained about the potential financial impacts in a county that fails to meet the federal standard.
Hatch and Lee have come down on the side of the business community and their letter says the rule, if formally adopted, "would impose significant new economic burdens on many communities, hurting workers and their families just as they are struggling to overcome difficult economic times."
The letter is signed by five Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Other than Hatch and Lee, the Republicans are Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The EPA plans to finalize the rule in six months, which was also part of a court settlement. The six Republican senators say that is too short a time to handle a rule of this complexity.
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