DEQ: Getting Serious about Improving Utah’s Air

Originally published March 6, 2017

By Donna Kemp Spangler

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is getting serious about improving Utah’s air quality by 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, DEQ’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has always been serious about improving air quality. Specifically, DAQ works to find reasonable and measurable solutions to bring Utah’s “nonattainment” areas of the state into compliance with federal health standards for fine particulate pollution, known as PM2.5—the primary pollutant that shrouds us during winter inversions and causes serious health problems. Scientists have been working on this issue since 2006 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the allowable daily average of fine particles from 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 35. In 2009, EPA declared parts of Utah—Salt Lake, Provo and Logan—as not meeting the standard. Scientists began work on an air-quality plan known as the “State Implementation Plan.”

The first step was to look at where the pollution is coming from along the Wasatch Front during the winter. DAQ concluded the following from its latest 2014 inventory of sources in Utah, Salt Lake, Davis, and Weber counties: 48 percent vehicles; 13 percent industry; and 39 percent “area sources” like home heating, cooking, paint solvents, etc. (Scientists are now updating the inventory of pollution sources contributing to winter pollution to include the nonattainment areas of Tooele, Cache and Box Elder counties.) That plan called on industry to install cleaner equipment and also included passage of 30-some rules aimed at emission reductions for area sources. As an example, one of those regulations requires that consumer products sold in Utah be formulated to reduce air-polluting components. This step will remove 2,000 tons of pollutants from our air annually.

Yet it’s not enough. Scientists knew it wouldn’t be enough to meet the federal health standard as required by 2015. EPA is now proposing to classify those areas along the Wasatch Front, Tooele, Box Elder and Cache counties as in “serious” nonattainment. That means air-quality scientists are rolling up their sleeves to find additional ways to meet the PM2.5 standard by 2019. We have to submit the plan to EPA by December 31, 2017. And we aren’t waiting around for EPA to tell us that. Technically, EPA hasn’t acted on its “serious” mandate.

Given the seriousness of this, we are not wasting time. DAQ has identified 30 businesses that would potentially fall under a “major source” of pollution, emitting annually 70 tons or more of PM2.5 or precursor pollutant like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of those businesses have resubmitted permits that reduce their emissions below that threshold. Others are looking at the feasibility of installing cleaner equipment to reduce emissions.

In the meantime, DEQ wants to hear from the public. What actions have you seen or thought of that EPA would consider? EPA will only consider proposed actions in a SIP if the actions are “permanent,” “quantifiable,” and “enforceable.” That means voluntary strategies that are difficult to enforce would not be acceptable to EPA.

The Communications Office has created a Facebook group, “Air 2019: Utah Air Quality Discussion Group” to facilitate a community dialogue. This is a place where community members can ask questions, suggest ideas, and share information about improving Utah’s air. Join the group to stay up-to-date on the latest news and provide input in the rulemaking and planning process. After all, we all want clean air.

Donna Kemp Spangler Communications Director/ Public Information OfficerI am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News.

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