Utah's pollution problem: Small steps making positive impact for air quality

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Transit Authority has 141,000 regular passengers on weekdays and 75 percent of those passengers are "choice riders," according to a passenger survey UTA conducts each year. Choice riders are people who have alternative forms of transportation but choose to ride public transit. Since January 2010, UTA has seen a 12 percent increase in ridership.

"The most common reason people ride is to save the environment," said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.

UTA has also made huge strides with new requirements for their 2010 buses, which will be more environmentally friendly than automobiles manufactured in the 1990s. The whole fleet will be completely switched over to the new buses by 2015, which will reduce fleet emissions by 80 percent. "The key is to get people out of single-occupant vehicles. Car pooling can cut emissions by 75 percent," said Carpenter, "A car with one person in it lets one pound of greenhouse gas per passenger mile, whereas a van full of people lets 1.5 pounds of green house gas per passenger mile."

Another huge concern among those who are apprehensive about Utah's air quality is Kennecott's contribution to Utah's pollution problem. The mine's owners are hoping to extend the mine's life out to at least 2028, which has some Utahns worried about its effect on air quality. But spokeswoman Jana Kettering said the mine has made significant changes in the last couple of years to cut back on emissions and help air quality.

The industry scene has painted pictures of gloomy inversion days since the industrial revolution in the 19th century; however, the modern day industry is trying to change that reputation by following the fast-paced trail of greener technology.

The copper mine proposed plans in December that would dramatically reduce air emissions in the valley by 2014. The upgrade includes converting the majority of the onsite coal-fired power plant's boilers to a combined-cycle natural gas operation. With this conversion, the mine would generate additional power while nearly doubling the efficiency rating.

According to the Department of Environmental Quality's 2008 statewide air emissions inventory, Kennecott's combined emission contribution was responsible for 6 percent of small particulate matter, which is the air pollutant that most commonly affects health.

"Kennecott's emissions represent a small percentage of the valley's air quality problem," said Rio Tinto's Kettering. "We've shown as an industry that we care about making positive change."

Although Utah has seen improvements within the last couple years vehicle emissions continue to remain the biggest problem.

"The largest single source here in the Salt Lake valley is automobiles," said Bryce Bird, planning branch manager with the Utah Division of Air Quality. "Anything to limit driving helps."

To learn more about the cleaning of Utah's air, visit the Mayor's Office initiative website at www.slcgov.com/mayor/initiatives/.

Contributing: Lois M. Collins

Email: kcox@desnews.com

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