The Wasatch Front must clean up its air or face sanctions from federal regulators and hurt the area's chances for economic growth, Salt Lake business leaders were warned Tuesday.

Salt Lake City and Provo were among 20 U.S. cities the Environmental Protection Agency has found violating federal air quality standards. See related story on B-1."Other cities are worse, but Salt Lake City is still on the list," Jon Lear, representing the Institute for Resource Management, said to the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

In a presentation by Lear and Dennis Earhart, with the local consulting firm Bear West, chamber board members were told a reputation of poor air quality can hurt Utah's chances of attracting new jobs.

Furthermore, possible EPA sanctions could include moratoriums on construction growth until air quality improves.

"A failure to address clean air is a failure to sustain economic growth," Lear said.

He explained that in the past Utah's business community would react to EPA standards with the logic: It's either clear air or jobs.

But that notion is changing, Lear noted, as firms seeking to expand or relocate often consider air quality as a factor in choosing a standard of living for their employees.

"Quality of life is a factor in attracting new jobs."

"We hope the chamber can take the lead role" in bringing together various interests involved in air quality and find answers to the problem, Lear said.

Chamber president Fred Ball said a chamber task force has been created to investigate the Wasatch Front's air quality and compliance with EPA standards.

The task force will begin meeting this month.

Every issue the Wasatch Front faces as it deals with its population and economic growth, Lear said, will have to address air quality.

He cited Salt Lake County's transportation systems as an example of an issue that not only deals with crowded freeways, but also will determine the valley's levels of carbon monoxide and ozone standard violations.

Earhart said automobiles contribute 76 percent of the area's carbon monoxide emissions and 34 percent of the violations of ozone standard violations.

As the valley's population of automobile drivers grows the levels will increase unless programs are implemented to solve the problem, Lear and Earhart said.

While Congress continues to wrangle over when and how the EPA will move against violators, local communities should begin acting on their own to avoid federal regulators, Lear said.

He explained that the Institute, founded by actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, has traveled to major metropolitan areas throughout the country to help them find answers and limit the costs of pollution problems.

Typically, air quality issues end up in court. But Lear recommended forging an alliance of business, environmental and government leaders to find solutions and avoid the costs of future litigation.

In California, where air pollution is among worst in country, the state authorized a group to order compliance of air quality standards.

Meanwhile, Denver took a less drastic step by creating groups of business, environmental and government leaders to address air quality problems. Lear said the Denver group recommended oil refineries place additives to gasoline, which brought the metropolitan area's carbon monoxide levels down.