The deadline for the Wasatch Front communities to comply with the 1970 federal Clean Air Act will pass next week with Utah not in compliance. Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties fail on ozone levels, while those three and Utah County have carbon monoxide levels that do not meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.
By law, the four will become subject to strict EPA penalties that could result in a ban on all polluting construction, including building of highways, sewage plants, factories or shopping centers that would attract auto traffic.Congress has been wrangling over rewriting of the Clean Air Act for years, and until now has papered over its inability to act by passing interim measures extending the compliance deadline. The last of those extensions runs out Aug. 31.
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, a member of the House Commerce Committee, has been working with that panel as it tried this summer to come up with a new law that would both clean up the air and not impose Draconian penalties on many U.S. cities including Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo. He said this week he expects Congress either to again extend the time limit or pass a compromise bill before it adjourns this fall.
If it does not, Los Angeles will be the first city to feel the penalties. Los Angeles is already under court order to implement stricter air-quality rules banning the construction of major pollution sources. Twelve other metropolitan areas in the United States - none in Utah - could face similar court-ordered bans if Congress does not act.
Utah could be affected if environmentalists go to court this fall to seek orders forcing EPA to crack down on the Wasatch Front communities. EPA has proposed a stretching of time for the cities to clean up the air, based on their moving now to improve air quality, even if they cannot do it at once. Failure to show some progress could trigger EPA-imposed rules. The courts could lay down their own rules to meet the strict 1970 act.
Nielson said he did not expect the Aug. 31 deadline to have much effect itself on the state unless Congress goes home this year without taking action.