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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Andeavor Salt Lake City Refinery operates in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. The refinery broke ground on a new Tier 3 gasoline project, which will provide Utah drivers cleaner, lower-sulfur gasoline necessary to improve air quality.

SALT LAKE CITY — Andeavor Salt Lake City Refinery officially broke ground Tuesday on the significant expansion of a piece of equipment that will result in cleaner burning fuels in vehicles by the end of 2019.

The lower-sulfur gas is expected to be in pumps at outlets like Shell and Exxon late next year in a move that, coupled with the latest model vehicles, equals taking 4 out of every 5 cars off the road.

Greg Goff, president and CEO of Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro, said the company is committed to being a good neighbor.

"At the end of the day, I just say one thing: It is the right thing to do for our community and our company," Goff said.

Because Andeavor is a small-sized refinery company, it did not have to meet the new regulatory standard imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also could have chosen to bypass the production of Tier 3 fuels by purchasing credits or "averaging" emissions reductions across its refinery inventory.

Goff, however, said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had meetings with refineries multiple years ago to push local adoption of the standard.

He added he still remembers the tenor of the meeting with the governor, who was pushing for all local refineries to move to the Tier 3 standard. Chevron, too, will move toward Tier 3 fuels at its Salt Lake refinery.

Alan Matheson, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said that when the EPA rolled out the new standard, the federal agency said no other state would benefit more from its adoption than Utah.

"This is a big deal," he said. "Air quality is fundamental to our health, our economy and our quality of life."

An array of regulations, advanced technology deployed by industry, research and other efforts resulted in a reduction of emissions by 30 percent from 2002 to 2014, Matheson said. That reduction, equivalent to a 46 percent decrease per capita in emissions, happened even though Utah added 600,000 people, he added.

With the state's population on track to nearly double by 2050, regulators and advocates agree more should happen to decrease pollutants that compromise air quality.

Herbert said the switch to Tier 3 fuels is the most signficant step on the immediate horizon to help bring about that reduction since about 50 percent of area pollutants come from a tailpipe.

If consumers purchase the latest model cars and combine that with low-sulfur fuel, it amounts to an 81 percent reduction in pollution, research shows.

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The Tier 3 fuel standard is not part of the Obama-era regulation EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Tuesday was "inappropriate" and in need of revision.

That standard deals with a requirement that cars and light-duty vehicles achieve greenhouse gas reductions by moving to a 54.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency by 2025.

In addition to expanding its equipment to reduce sulfur from gasoline, Andeavor has invested $300 million on emissions-related upgrades, including installing a wet gas scrubber. That machinery reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by 95 percent and 60 percent, respectively.