The newsLINK Group - Finding a Better Way to Fix Utah's Air Quality Problems

Editorial Library Category: Manufacturing Topics: Manufacturing, Air Quality Title: Finding a Better Way to Fix Utah’s Air Quality Problems Author: Stephen W. Smithson Synopsis: Across the Wasatch Front and throughout the State of Utah, we face increasing challenges related to air quality. The question we should ask is, “Are we going to continue to address these issues the same way we have, or can we do something better?” Editorial: Finding a Better Way to Fix Utah’s Air Quality Problems 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ thenewslinkgroup.com │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 Across the Wasatch Front and throughout the State of Utah, we face increasing challenges related to air quality. The question we should ask is, “Are we going to continue to address these issues the same way we have, or can we do something better?” Wasatch Front counties have long been constrained in their ability to grow economically due to restrictions imposed as a result of occasional exceedances of the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM 10 (fairly course particulate matter). As a result, decades ago, the State adopted PM 10 State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to control PM 10 emissions for most of the Wasatch Front. Fortunately, the State recently was able to propose revised, less- constraining SIPs, which SIPs are subject to approval by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because Utah has been able to demonstrate attainment of the PM 10 NAAQS through 2030. This was a tremendous achievement for Utah, and for the health and economic well-being of its citizens. There was also a tremendous economic cost, undoubtedly in the billions of dollars, and primarily borne by Utah industry (notably, Utah mining), associated with this achievement. Meanwhile, the state recently adopted SIPs for PM 2.5 (much finer particulate matter) for roughly the same areas impacted by PM 10 . PM 2.5 is the primary pollutant of concern during our wintertime inversions. It is unquestionably important to control PM 2.5 emissions, both because of the direct health impacts during inversions and because of the indirect economic impacts caused by adverse public reaction to the inversions. Unfortunately, however, it seems unlikely that Utah will be able to attain compliance with the short-term PM 2.5 NAAQS because of the unique physical conditions associated with the Wasatch Front and because of the low concentration set for attainment of the NAAQs. Moreover, in order to pencil in a compliance plan that eventually might theoretically lead to attainment, Utah needed to severely restrict both growth of existing operations across the Wasatch Front and the possibility of any new growth. Consequently, it seems likely that compliance costs will be high and that lost economic growth costs will be especially high. Part of the reason for these high compliance costs and for the lost economic growth is the fact that Utah is hampered by the federal Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations as to how Utah can craft its SIPs. Under current law there is little that Utah can do about this first problem. (Although, Utah recently engaged in some effective, creative legislative work to provide economic incentives for our refineries to produce Tier 3 gasoline precisely in order to work around one of the Clean Air Act’s limitations and to thereby hasten the reduction of PM 2.5 emissions. Governor Herbert and the Legislature should be commended for this effort.) There is, however, a second problem that Utah can and should address. There is a general lack of political will to do better. (Obviously, as evidenced by the Tier 3 gasoline legislation, it is not a universal lack of will. Indeed, that legislation is evidence that we can do better.) A prime example of the general lack of will arose in 2015 when Utah was considering significant bans on residential burning of wood and other solid fuels. To be clear, those proposed bans should have been enacted – they would have had immediate health benefits and they would have eased the economic burdens that we will now all need to share as part of the PM 2.5 SIPs. Initially, those bans were proposed by Utah’s environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs strongly argued the benefits of the bans and Utah’s regulators agreed. Utah’s industry also agreed (at least, privately). But, that’s where the first failure of political will occurred: Utah’s industry feared that if it vocally supported the bans then it would be accused of opportunism because it would economically benefit from the bans. And, it is true that industry would have benefitted, but so would have virtually all Utahns. So, industry stayed silent. Meanwhile, a small minority of homeowners, who would have been directly impacted by the bans, as well as lobbyists for the businesses who supply the wood, solid fuel and home burners, began to

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