Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Tired of the finger-pointing and frustrated with the Wasatch Front's persistent air pollution problem, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the formation of a 38-member Clean Air Action Team to come up with new solutions.
Herbert said it is no longer good enough for the state's most crowded areas to meet federal clean air standards 95 percent of the time.
"We want to meet the standard 100 percent of the time," he said. "One day of bad air is one day too many. We are not going to be just 'good enough.'"
The group, CAAT, includes five Utah lawmakers, the mayors of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and St. George, the state climatologist, clean air advocates, business representatives, physicians and policymakers.
Herbert said the group will meet through 2014 and come up with recommendations to curb Utah's dirty air problem.
"This is more than just feel good," he said. "There is no possible solution or effort that will be left unviewed."
Members' efforts will be organized and coordinated through Envision Utah, which Herbert said has set the standard for its collaborative leadership in defining the issues and engaging public participation in key policy arenas.
Dan Lofgren, chairman of Envision Utah, said the group will work with CAAT over the next year to hammer out a template for effective solutions to a tough issue.
"We will facilitate Utah bringing forward a vision around which people can galvanize," he said, noting the organization applauds the work already accomplished through regulatory oversight and the efforts of advocates.
Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said she was thrilled with the establishment of the team, which was included in a list of steps her organization was pushing Herbert's office to take.
"We are thrilled they embraced our suggestion," she said. "What I am very concerned about is that it is staffed heavily with policy people, and there is a dearth of engineers and scientists who are the ones in the barracks and on the front lines of this."
Alan Matheson, the governor's environmental adviser, said membership can change, and the amount of initial members was designed to include many interests but still be workable.
"There's a natural tension between representation and getting things done," he said.
The governor's announcement came on the same day the state Division of Air Quality hosted a public hearing on its plan to curb wintertime air pollution.
Utah has until 2019 to come into compliance with federal clean air standards in Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties, as well as portions of Box Elder, Tooele and Cache counties, which have been designated as "non-attainment."
The State Implementation Plan designed to reduce that wintertime pollution is up for public comment through the end of this month, a time frame advocates complain is inadequate.
Groups such as Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and HEAL Utah also assert the plan does not go far enough.
"Throw one bad winter into the mix like the one we just experienced and we fear the state’s whole plan will fall apart," said Christopher Thomas, HEAL Utah's executive director.
The groups are working together to hire experts to examine some of the state's biggest polluters to look for swifter and deeper pollution cuts. The groups have requested an additional 30 days to file those comments.
"The purpose of this plan is to protect our health. We need to ensure that it is effective, fair and implemented as quickly as possible," said Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "Given its complexity, if (the Division of Air Quality) does not extend the comment period, it will make it virtually impossible for the public to have a meaningful voice in this process.”
The groups have started an online petition at www.utahcleanair.com, asking state officials to contemplate deeper industrial cuts.
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