SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Air Quality Board rejected a citizens petition asking for the adoption of a greenhouse gas reduction plan that sought to curtail emissions by 6 percent each year.
The decision by the nine-member board Wednesday came after lengthy discussion and testimony by a parade of grass-roots clean air advocates.
Attorney Jamie Pleune filed the petition with the Air Quality Board seeking a new rule on greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to requesting action by the regulatory board, Pleune's clients submitted the petition to multiple state agencies and wanted studies on climate change performed by the Division of Water Resources and the Department of Health. The group also petitioned Gov. Gary Herbert's office, which she said turned them down.
Other agencies, she added, have politely said "no, thanks," a rejection she attributes to fear of political fallout from the Utah Legislature.
Kathy Van Dame was the lone board member to support the petition, citing urgent progress that needs to be made to address the impacts of climate change
Other members, backing up recommendations made by staff, cited lack of resources and pending regulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency as reasons not to adopt the plan.
"Environmental quality is important to this state," said board member Darrell Smith, "or we would not have a Department of Environmental Quality."
Still, he speculated that to throw so many resources at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which would be precipitated with the adoption of a formal rule, would be "premature" given the agency's workload in other arenas to curtail pollution such as PM2.5 or ozone.
That reasoning followed the blunt assessment made by Division of Air Quality section manager Dave McNeill, who said employees are already too overwhelmed crafting federally required state pollution plans to take on such the monumental task of taking an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and then setting controls for reductions.
The EPA, he added, is in the midst of crafting regulations requiring the submission of inventories by the largest polluters. Coming out in advance of the establishment of federal measurements would put the state out of step with what could be anticipated by the federal government.
But Pleune said the petition effort, more than anything, is to get state agencies talking about ways to address a problem that, so far, exists in a vacuum of state policies or regulations that could effect change.
"The petition itself is flexible. ... We don't want perfection to be the enemy of good," she said, adding that some sort of plan is better than nothing at all.
Mathias Sanyer, 18, one of the citizen petitioners, told the board he feels like he is a passenger in the backseat of a car noticing a tire going flat. Those in control are at the driver's seat and front passenger seat, he said, arguing about the severity of the flattening tire and how far the car can keep going before everything starts to break down.
"Are you going to have me take the car, when everything's messed up and try to fix it — with the $5 you gave me for snacks?"