Utah's governor and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are at odds over which areas of Utah ought to be labeled as having too much of the kind of foul air that can aggravate people with heart and lung problems.
Last December Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. mailed his recommendations to the EPA about which counties or parts of counties should be listed as "nonattainment" areas for violating a federal air quality standard that focuses on tiny particles known as PM2.5. Those particles come from industrial stacks, automobile emissions and chimneys on homes.
But the EPA's list released Tuesday cast a broader net than Huntsman's and the EPA recommended that the counties of Salt Lake, Davis and parts of Utah, Weber, Box Elder and Tooele be designated as a single area of bad air in need of cleaning up.
The EPA Tuesday also proposed to designate part of Cache County and Idaho's Franklin County as a single nonattainment area for PM2.5. The goal, of course, is cleaning up the air enough to meet more strict federal standards.
"The most efficient way to achieve this goal is to have one attainment plan for each of the two areas that identify the potential sources of emissions that will need controls to meet the standard," the EPA stated in a fact sheet.
"Fine particle pollution is one of the most significant barriers to clean air facing our nation today," EPA Region 8 acting administrator Carol Rushin said in a statement.
Several tribal agencies have also been notified by the EPA about high PM2.5 areas.
"Gov. Huntsman is committed to improving air quality in Utah," said spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.
For the governor, she added, it's a quality of life issue. Roskelley said the governor will need time to analyze the EPA's recommendations before forming a response.
"Our package to the EPA was based on a thorough scientific analysis and a sound approach," said Cheryl Heying, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. "But we have not seen EPA's analysis and will have an opportunity to respond once we have evaluated their work."
Heying said it's important for people to know that Utah is "committed" to reducing particulate pollution to meet federal air quality standards "as efficiently and as rapidly as possible."
The standard, measured over a 24-hour period, is for particulate matter, PM2.5, which can be made up of the ultrafine particles that include sources such as chimneys, industry and vehicle emissions. The EPA expects the 24-hour standard for PM2.5, established in 2006, to be no higher than 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
The PM2.5 violation used by the EPA for Salt Lake County was 48 micrograms and in Cache County it was 40 micrograms. The EPA's 24-hour standard for PM2.5 prior to 2006 was 65 micrograms.
The EPA based its new proposed designation on air quality data, verified by state regulators, from 2005-2007.
Huntsman had recommended that nonattainment areas should be all of Salt Lake and Davis counties and a large part of Weber County. He also recommended to the EPA that they designate eight townships for a Utah Valley nonattainment area and seven townships in the Cache Valley area.
The new designations are intended to start a process of local and state officials working on a plan to reduce PM2.5 air quality readings. The pollutants in question are about one thirtieth the size of an average human hair and have been linked to increased problems for people with heart and lung diseases.
Utah is in the EPA's Region 8, which includes six Western states. The governors of Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota wrote short letters to the EPA that did not recommend any areas for the nonattainmentnon-attainment tag. Huntsman's letter to the EPA was 66 pages and the EPA's response, 91 pages, was the longest for the eight states.
Utah now has 60 days to give the EPA documents that detail what's going to be done about high PM2.5 numbers.
The EPA will also announce in the next few weeks on the Federal Register the start date of a 30-day public comment on the proposed designations.
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