Clean air proposal stoking concern in Cache County

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 6:21 p.m. MDT

St. George Mayor Daniel McArthur speaks during a kickoff event in St. George this summer, joining other area officials to promote the "Clear the Air Challenge," a statewide campaign to lower vehicle emissions and protect air quality. Gov. Gary Herbert will meet with Cache County officials Wednesday to address their concerns on requiring vehicle emissions testing to clean up the air.

David DeMille

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LOGAN — Gov. Gary Herbert will meet with Cache County officials Wednesday to address their concerns on requiring vehicle emissions testing to clean up the air.

Herbert will be accompanied by Amanda Smith, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, in a discussion that also will include several state lawmakers from the northern Utah area.

At issue is the state's pursuit of a pollution plan to come into compliance with federal air quality standards that includes having Cache County adopt a vehicle emissions and maintenance program. The county remains unconvinced it is necessary or if it would even achieve pollution reduction goals.

"From a policy perspective, the county is looking for consensus building rather than a state mandate on how to resolve some difficult issues," said Don Linton, chief deputy of the Cache County Attorney's Office. "The county wants to see what alternatives are available and if those alternatives are more reasonable."

The face-to-face with Herbert comes after the Cache County Council voted 5-2 in August against adopting an emissions testing program, a move that surprised the Utah Division of Air Quality, which had been working with the county to come up with pollution reducing strategies.

In that meeting, County Councilman Val Potter said he didn't believe it would be worth residents' time or money to adopt a program that he believes would not effectively curtail pollutants.

Linton said Cache County's air is pristine and clear the majority of the time. During harsh wintertime inversions, pollutants "spike" and the area exceeds national air quality standards.

"Those spikes create very poor air quality, but it is limited in scope," he said.

Minutes from previous County Council meetings indicate a lot of residents are skeptical that such a program would cut down on pollution, particularly when adjacent counties won't have the same requirement.

"It is not that impressive to people who have to live through the red air days," Linton said.

Smith said inventories have determined that Cache County's single largest contribution to its pollution problem comes from automobiles.

As a result, the state is proposing a more lenient, cheaper program for residents with an eye to the future that, by five years from now, the bulk of cars will be clean-burning and a formal program would no longer be necessary.

"We put forward a program that is least restrictive as possible," Smith said, proposing to require testing for every year for cars older than 1996 models and testing every other year for vehicles that have on-board diagnostic systems. The cost to motorists would be $20 for a tailpipe test and $15 for check on a car's diagnostic systems.

With Herbert's involvement in Wednesday's discussion, the idea is to avert a dispute that has potential legal implications. Linton said Utah law requires a county's consent before the state Division of Air Quality establishes any rules for a vehicle emissions program.

"That just has not happened yet," Linton said.

The division, in turn, is looking to another section of the law it feels will bolster its legal standing in the dispute.

Senate Majority Assistant Whip Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said he hopes to be at the meeting to talk through some of the concerns.

"We all want clean air, but the issue boils down to what is the best way to achieve that and the cost differential in various proposals," Knudson said.

For any pollution reduction plan to work, there has to agreement among those impacted, he said.

"You have to have buy in from the various entities that would be affected," Knudson said. "You don't want something just rammed down your throat. We need a good discussion."

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

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