LOGAN — Local air pollution regulations such as wood burning restrictions and vehicle emissions testing are working in Cache Valley, with the region becoming the first in the state to meet a specific federal Clean Air standard in the past 12 years.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently published a "clean data" determination for Logan, Cache Valley and a portion of Franklin County, Idaho, for PM2.5, fine particulate pollution that is 3 percent the diameter of a human hair.
That determination means the region has met the federal threshold for 24-hour levels of the pollution over the last three years and is now in "attainment" for the standard.
Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said the determination is the first one in Utah for PM2.5 since the EPA changed the standard in 2006.
"This demonstrates that the (pollution) plan developed in cooperation with the county has been effective at reducing emissions," he said, pointing to restrictions on wood burning, implementation of a vehicle emissions testing program and other pollution controls.
The determination does not mean those pollution regulations go away but it does give hope for other areas of the state that remain out of compliance with the federal standard, including Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Box Elder and portions of Tooele counties.
Cache County's road to a clean data determination by the federal agency has not been without its bumps.
Six years ago, county leaders voted 5-2 against adopting a vehicle emissions testing program because they were unconvinced it would do much to clean up the air.
A vehicle emissions testing program passed the next year on a slim vote, and Utah regulators worked with local health department officials and the EPA to secure a nearly $2.5 million grant for a replace-or-repair program aimed at older, polluting vehicles.
At times, wintertime inversions trap pollutants in the region to such an extent that it earns the dubious honor of having the dirtiest air in the country.
A recent emissions inventory carried out by multiple agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that Cache Valley, in particular, is laden with wood smoke in the winter.
The $2 million study, the first of its kind in the nation, used an airplane equipped with instruments to take pollution "samples" in inversions.5 comments on this story
The aircraft did missed approaches, coming within 15 feet of the ground at regional airports, including Logan's, to measure the concentration of pollution at lower reaches of the inversions, and flew the pollution column until it was above it.
Locally, there have been citizen-led efforts aimed at reducing air pollution in Cache County.
In 2013, residents launched the Cache Clean Air Consortium which promotes idle-free campaigns and sponsors clean air poster contests for high school students.
Regulators say public outreach is another effective tool for reducing emissions.