Long after the war against Iraq is over and the current economic recession has been put to rest, we will still be grappling with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
That's the view of Salt Lake lawyer and environmental issues expert James A. Holtkamp. And despite the events in the Persian Gulf that have currently eclipsed domestic issues, many Utah business managers apparently agree with him.Some 100 executives turned out Tuesday for a seminar Holtkamp, an attorney with the law firm Davis, Graham & Stubbs, held at the Marriott Hotel. Prior to the conference, he spoke with the Deseret News.
Signed by President Bush in November - the first major overhaul of federal air quality regulations since 1977 - the controversial Clean Air Act amendments were immediately criticized by environmentalists as too soft on polluters and by business as too strict.
Either way, said Holtkamp, the one thing that can't be argued is that the act will have "enormous impact" over the next 10 years, including "lifestyle changes" in those cities that have the worst air.
Those cities are led by Los Angeles, of course, but Salt Lake City cannot take much comfort from that. Holtkamp said Salt Lake is currently classified as a "non-attainment" city, meaning it does not meet the national standards for air pollution.
He said the state is scheduled to designate by March 15 in which classification Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah counties fall. He expects the four counties to be classified as "moderate" problem areas, or possibly "serious." In both cases, they would have to meet air quality standards for ozone within nine years, but the latter case would extend emission controls beyond the "Genevas and Kennecotts" to such smaller concerns as dry cleaning outlets and gasoline stations.
In addition, Holtkamp said, the act will require significant changes in how existing plants control their emissions and, for the first time, sets up a market-based system of pollution allowance for coal-fired utilities - an attempt to control acid rain.
The act calls for phaseout of ozone-depleting substances and increases the penalties for non-compliance - in some cases, criminal penalties for "negligent" non-compliance.
The act also defines a list of 189 hazardous, perhaps cancer-inducing, air pollutants, up from only 13 in the previous act. It puts new responsibilities and burdens on the states, which are required to carry out most of the provisions of the act through delegation from the Environmental Protection Agency. As if that number weren't large enough, it provides for additional pollutants to be added later.
Also coming under the gun, said Holtkamp, are wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, already said to be a contributor to the inversion murk that hits the Salt Lake Valley in winter.
"Conceivably, you could see prohibitions of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves in new homes. Maybe you won't be able to get a building permit for a house with a fireplace unless it is gas fired or simply decorative."
The act also will give new fuel to the long debate over a light rail system along the Wasatch Front.
Could all of this new regulation result in a smog-free Wasatch Front early in the next century? Maybe. Holtkamp offers the "subjective, anecdotal" opinion that the smog inversion was "a lot browner" when he moved to Utah in 1977, implying that the air is cleaner today than it was 15 years ago and will be even more improved a decade from now as the new standards are met.
But one thing that is not subjective, he said, is that states that don't achieve the standards of the act by the end of this decade will face a variety of penalties, including withholding of federal funds and even enforcement intervention by federal authorities.