Board approves state air quality plan; critics say it doesn't go far enough
Rick Bowmer, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Air Quality Board on Wednesday adopted the final part the state's plans to improve air quality, despite several Utahns' assertions that the measures are not strict enough.
Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah, said he was pleased with the turnout after the group informed and urged members of the community to attend the meeting. Nearly every chair was filled, and community members lined the walls.
But Pacenza did not get the outcome he was hoping for.
"We’re not surprised, but we are a little disappointed," he said. "We would have liked to have seen a few more board members at least who would agree that this plan could be tougher."
Bryce Bird, Department of Environmental Quality director, said Wednesday's decision is one of the final steps in the state's clean air pursuit that establishes requirements for large industrial sources.
"The action today is actually putting into state law what the emissions limitations will be for each one of these sources based on our evaluations of new controls and new technology that can be applied to those sources," Bird said.
Under the Clean Air Act, the board will have to show the Environmental Protection Agency that controls are in place to show attainment of PM2.5 by 2019.
"It is clearly a very important part of the puzzle," Bird said of Wednesday's action. "This wraps up the final piece of our controls under the state plan."
Pacenza told the board it appeared to be faced with two options — adopt the plan Wednesday or to do nothing and wait years until the next major rule-making is required.
"I guess I'm a little confused to why there isn't a third option, which is to pull the (state's implementation plan) back today, make it better and then resubmit it in a matter of months," he said.
Despite the vote, Pacenza said, he was impressed with turnout, especially during a snowstorm.
"I think it is really clear that air quality has sort of risen to the top of the list of things that people are concerned about," he said.
Summit County resident Jill Sheinberg told the board that on particularly smoggy nights, her grandson who lives in Salt Lake City will ask to be taken to her home.
"That’s really scary," Sheinberg said. "This is an emergency. We are the worst air in the country. People will not come here. People are moving to Summit County. I know they’re also leaving the state."
She called the board's decision a "Band-Aid" for a bigger issue.
"You need to do a lot more. I'm not saying you haven't worked hard. I’m saying your attitude is not what it should be. It’s an emergency. Rise to it," Sheinberg said, drawing applause from the crowded room.
Bird said the sources of emissions are divided into three categories, with transportation emissions being the largest, the second being area sources such as existing homes and buildings, and the smallest piece being the large industrial sources.
"But that’s not to say that we’re ignoring (large industrial sources) at all, and I think this plan today demonstrates that very well," he said.
Under the new plan, refineries will be required to bring their equipment up the best possible control technologies.
Bird said the board has been working with the EPA, which submitted feedback on the plan during the comment period.
The emissions controls will stay the same, he said. Over the next few months, the board will work with the EPA to make sure the technical requirements are met as well, Bird said.
Pacenza said HEAL Utah’s attention will now be turned to the EPA, which will decide whether the plan meets its requirements.
He said the group plans to show the EPA that many Utahns want the best possible controls and safeguards put into place "so that we can do that hard work that we need to do to clean up our air."
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