The right to pollute could become a market commodity along the Wasatch Front, state health officials said Thursday.

A cap on the amount of air pollution allowed in the valley at any one time, already in place in other cities nationwide, now exists in Salt Lake City, which means new companies that would pollute the air or those that already exist and pollute the air can't relocate here or expand unless they own someone elses' pollution rights.A Texas-based company may soon sell its right to emit air pollution from its inactive Portland Cement plant at 615 W. 800 South. It is now being used as a shipping terminal by Mountain Cement Co., a subsidiary of Centex Cement Enterprises, Dallas.

While the plant has not manufactured cement for years, its equipment remains operable and the company has maintained its permit to exhaust 700 tons of nitrogen oxides and 200 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Amoco Oil Co. is interested in purchasing Centex's pollution permit, and Utah health officials say they believe the valley could handle the extra pollution with little impact.

"This is very new to us in Salt Lake City," said Randall L. Couch, manager of the Salt Lake office for Amoco. "I don't know yet what the rules are for trading, selling or buying these permits . . . It might give us expansion capability or more operating flexibility."

It's not known how much the pollution permit would be worth on the open market, said Hubert Smith, corporate director of engineering for Centex. He stressed the company has made no decision yet about selling the permit.

But it is a concept supported by the Utah Bureau of Air Quality.

The practice would allow the pollution allowance to be used by companies producing the largest economic return from the community, said Burnell Cordner, director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality.