SALT LAKE CITY — The clean air partnership formed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert more than two years ago has been retooled from a government entity to a nonprofit organization, a step he says will allow for greater collaboration to fix the state's pollution problem.
"We owe it to ourselves to maintain our great quality of life," Herbert said. "Our air quality is actually improving, but that doesn't mean we don't have our challenges. The air may be cleaner than it was 10 years ago, but it is still dirty."
Herbert's announcement of the transition came Tuesday during a news conference adjacent to the TRAX stop near West Valley City Hall.
The Utah Clean Air Partnership has a new executive director, Shawnie McAllister, and a board of directors that includes the governor's environmental point man, Alan Matheson; and Utah Air Quality Board member Robert Paine.
Paine said UCAIR will target the decrease of PM2.5, or fine winter particulate pollution, and will roll out a series of available grants for reducing emissions this summer. In addition, the organization seeks to challenge other nonprofits, the government and business sector for the best new technology to curtail air pollutants.
Paine, who is chief of the pulmonary division at University Hospital, later said that tough challenges lay ahead for getting the emissions decreased.
The board has been immersed in passing a flurry of new regulations — more than two dozen — going after industry, small businesses, individual consumer products and manufacturing, all with an eye in bringing Utah's metropolitan areas into compliance with federal clean air standards.
Paine said the obvious targets such as industry and business have been addressed, and now the work gets tougher because it deals with individual choices that collectively may be harder to stomach.
"We need about a 10 percent reduction in our particulates," he said. "We need to address all of our contributions."
Critics of Herbert and the Utah Division of Air Quality have repeatedly accused them of not doing enough to tackle the air pollution problem, which earned the Wasatch Front the dubious distinction of having the worst air in the country this last winter.
Herbert and the division have countered that air pollution is a shared problem that requires a concerted effort by many to fix.
As an example, Bryce Bird, division director, pointed to the simple act of spilling gasoline as something that can add up.
"For every ounce of gasoline spilled, the fumes are equivalent to driving your car 60 miles," Bird said.
The media event came the day before Amanda Smith, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, was scheduled to testify before Congress urging caution on EPA's possible move to adopt a stricter ozone standard for states.
According to a statement by the department, Smith is expected to urge that EPA not pursue a "cookie-cutter" approach to the ozone problem, particularly in the West. A blanket standard in advance of solving unique Western issues will only guarantee Utah and other states will not meet the standard, she said.
“If the EPA moves forward with a more stringent standard before mechanisms to address Western ozone issues are developed, it will guarantee failure for Utah and many other Western states, leading to severe consequences for those states,” Smith said.
The department points out that recent studies show ozone from as far away as Asia, and wildfires closer to Utah, contribute significantly to "background ozone" levels.
Even sparsely populated San Juan County and Canyonlands National Park would fail to meet the new standard, according to the department.
The EPA is contemplating lowering the current limit of 75 parts per billion, established in 2008, to 70 parts per billion.
“Transportation-focused measures in small rural communities will not be effective," Smith said, "nor will overly stringent controls applied to remote industrial sources. Setting an ozone standard that can’t be met won’t improve public health in Utah."