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(Tom Smart | Pool) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes takes a photo before Governor Gary R. Herbert delivers his 2014 State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Salt Lake City.
Governor calls for action on cleaning up Utah air

Medicaid expansion and defense of Utah’s gay-marriage ban also are on his to-do list.

First Published Jan 29 2014 01:46 pm • Last Updated Jan 30 2014 08:19 am

Gov. Gary Herbert called for steps to clear Utah’s air, using his State of the State address to push for quicker adoption of clean-burning gasoline, clamping down on the use of wood-burning stoves and retrofitting aging, dirty school buses.

"These actions, and others, will have real costs and real impacts on all of us, but I’m convinced the benefits to our economy, to our communities and, most importantly, to our public health, will justify the costs," Herbert said.

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During his nearly 30-minute speech, Herbert also reiterated his plan to at least partially expand Medicaid to cover at least 60,000 Utahns without health insurance under Obamacare, to defend Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, and appeared to respond to criticism earlier in the week from House Speaker Becky Lockhart that Herbert was failing to lead.

"Let us set aside any personal agenda and work to benefit the Utahns we serve," Herbert said, while not naming Lockhart.

Action on air • It was the most direct call to action from the governor to date for dealing with Utah’s polluted air, which is among the unhealthiest in the nation.

Herbert said the state will accelerate its transition to so-called Tier 3 gasoline and lower-emission vehicles. The federal government is scheduled to begin phasing in the new standards for cleaner, low-sulfur gas in 2017. Utah likely would not get that fuel until 2019 at the earliest.

Herbert said Utah would make the change "as soon as possible," reducing tailpipe emissions by as much as 80 percent. Essentially, the state would unilaterally adopt the clean-fuel standard earlier than federally required.

Herbert also cited research by the University of Utah which found that smoke from wood-burning stoves accounts for about 5 percent of particulates in the winter inversion. Burning one log for an hour emits the same amount of pollution as driving from Salt Lake City to St. George and back.

He called on the state’s Air Quality Board to limit wood burning in non-attainment areas during the entire inversion season but did not specify the steps the board would take.

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Herbert’s environmental adviser, Alan Matheson, said the board would have to craft the new rules, but it is envisioned that the state would provide some incentives to replace wood-burning units that are the sole source of heat in 207 homes.

Beyond that, penalties for wood burning on "red-air" days would be expanded and applied to homes in non-attainment areas throughout the inversion season.

Lonnie Bullard, CEO of Jacobson Construction and co-chairman of the governor’s Clean Air Action Team, said the wood-burning-stove ban and Tier 3 push were the low-hanging fruit that everyone on the panel agreed could be done immediately and urged the governor to move quickly on.

"We didn’t want to wait another year," Bullard said.

While the state’s Division of Air Quality could implement both programs without legislation, Bullard said they still want support from the Legislature.

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, a pediatrician who serves on the governor’s clean-air team, said the new fuel standards would have the single biggest impact on Utah’s air quality, because they go to the largest source of pollution. "It’s an everyman solution," she said.

But the governor may have something of a selling job ahead in the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said he’s not sure Republican lawmakers will want to take such a heavy-handed approach.

"I think we’re going to take a look at what’s responsible," Okerlund said. "Obviously it’s going to be a little hard to tell people they can’t burn wood in their fireplaces, not do anything in their fireplaces any more. … I doubt we’ll want to get into the real weeds on those kinds of things."

‘A good start’ • Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, is sponsoring legislation that would create an incentive for homeowners to replace their wood-burning stoves, beef up the enforcement of violators and create a public-education program so residents understand the requirements.

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