Wasatch Front achieves ozone victory, more work to be done on other pollution plans

Published: Wednesday, May 2 2012 5:58 p.m. MDT

Smog covers the valley as a family hikes down from Ensign Peak Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah air quality regulators are celebrating an important milestone in the battle against air pollution by having met more stringent standards for ozone along the Wasatch Front.

Word of the compliance with federal standards came down from the Environmental Protection Agency after three years of monitoring showed levels below 75 parts per billion during the highest eight-hour average on a given day.

Bryce Bird, director of Utah's Division of Air Quality, briefed air quality board members of the achievement during a Wednesday meeting, noting that the state had been on the brink of being out of compliance when the more stringent standard was announced four years ago.

Air quality regulators attribute the reduction of ozone to cleaner burning cars, aggressive public education campaigns to curtail vehicle trips during at-risk days and additional industry controls.

Bird noted that the EPA has deemed the Uintah Basin as "unclassifiable" pending an aggressive multi-agency study to determine the source of ozone in the winter months and how to control it. At times, wintertime ozone levels in the basin have been twice the national standard set by federal regulators.

Brock LeBaron, the division's deputy director, said the study — the largest of its kind ever done in Utah — is gathering data from 20 air monitoring sites and just completed its first year of sampling.

He told board members that preliminary conclusions will be presented in early June to officials in the Uintah Basin, with a final report due to be released in October.

Colleen Delaney, an air quality scientist with the division, said it is to Utah's advantage to combat the basin's ozone problem ahead of any regulatory controls that come down.

Delaney said the obvious benefit is to public health, but a proactive plan will help industry and others institute pollution reductions in advance of federal regulations.

"The ideal thing would be to achieve reductions and never have to do a State Implementation Plan," to come into compliance, she said.

In the same meeting, Bird said the division had recently got word of the EPA's approval of portions of the state's plan to control regional haze pollution and its impacts to national parks. Two sections of the plan were rejected by the agency dealing with Utah's two oldest coal-fired plants and their emissions of smog-producing nitrogen oxides.

The pair of PacifiCorp power plants in Emery County that throw the state's plan out of compliance means air quality regulators will have to meet with the utility to craft new strategies for further pollution reductions, Bird said.

"We will have a robust discussion," on those strategies during the next air quality meeting, he added.

PacifiCorp has said it is already implementing upgrades to its Hunter and Huntington plants and plans to be in compliance with the EPA 's regional haze limits.

Board members and air quality staff also received a detailed presentation by representatives from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, urging the state to adopt overall pollution standards more stringent than what is in place by the federal government.

Dr. Brian Moench detailed an array of alarming health statistics he said should compel state regulators to adopt more stringent rules.

"We are calling on the air quality board to make a determination that Utah standards should reflect medical standards, regardless of what the EPA does or does not do."

Citing study after study, Moench said the incentive to act is in the piles of research that link air pollution to heart attacks, respiratory failure, stroke and increased incidences of dementia.

"In respect to research, every major medical research organization in the country has called for the standards to be more strict," he said.

Utah is already facing a December deadline to craft an aggressive plan to curb levels of fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5, to come into compliance with existing federal standards.

A series of stakeholder meetings recently explored a number of options that could be deployed on multiple fronts, including those that impact industry, commuters, businesses such as restaurants and individual choices, such as bans on certain personal care products.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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