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Vehicle Repair Program Helps Fix Older Cars to Improve Air Quality

Cars traveling in the winter up Interstate 80 in Northern Utah.

In many cases, automobiles are essential to everyday life — providing transportation to and from work, delivering food and enabling efficiencies unimaginable to previous generations.

By Mat Carlile

Graphic showing the sources of air pollution during the wintertime.

Click to enlarge.

The revolutionary power of the internal-combustion engine has dramatically changed the course of human history. Cars and trucks have given people a way to get around quickly. This made communities more mobile, economies more flexible and the pace of modern life, well, faster.

In many cases, automobiles are essential to everyday life — providing transportation to and from work, delivering food and enabling efficiencies unimaginable to previous generations. With these advances, however, comes some drawbacks.

In Utah, one of the most notable drawbacks is the emissions from vehicles that get trapped in our valleys during wintertime inversion. During a typical winter day, mobile sources (cars and trucks) account for nearly 50 percent of Utah’s air pollution. This pollution stresses respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is charged with enforcing regulations and crafting strategies that ensure pollution in Utah doesn’t exceed the standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is no silver bullet to address air pollution throughout the state. Instead, regulators look to find solutions by addressing as many sources of pollution as possible — including cars.

Cars aren’t all created equally, though. Tier-3 vehicles, electric vehicles and other advancements provide cleaner transportation options. Options that were not even available just ten years ago.

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a newer cleaner vehicle. In some cases, an otherwise responsible adult finds that their only option for transportation has fallen out of repair and the emissions controls no longer work. These older, broken cars are some of the biggest polluters on the road.
A vehicle that fails emissions standards can pollute up to 150 times more than one that is properly maintained and in good repair. What’s more, nearly a quarter of the cars along the Wasatch Front were built prior to the implementation of newer, more rigorous emission standards. These vehicles produce a disproportionate amount of pollution—pollution that affects all of us.

The Vehicle Repair and Replacement Assistance Program (VRRAP) provides funding assistance to residents stuck with vehicles that are failing emissions to either replace with a newer, cleaner one or to repair it. Funds for the VRRAP were provided through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Targeted Airshed Grant Program. The overall goal of the Targeted Airshed Grant Program is to reduce air pollution in the nation’s areas with the highest levels of ozone and fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution. This program assists local, state, and tribal environmental quality agencies in conducting projects that reduce air pollution. In 2017, DEQ was awarded $2,477,250 to implement VRRAP in Cache County. This grant ends on March 9, 2022. In 2019, DEQ received $4,698,489 to bring VRRAP to Box Elder, Weber, Salt Lake, Davis and Tooele counties. This grant runs until Sept. 1, 2024.

A vehicle that doesn’t pass an emissions test may receive financial assistance to replace the failed vehicle with a newer, cleaner one or to repair it so that it passes a subsequent emissions test. The amount of financial assistance depends on household income, household size, and whether the applicant chooses to replace or repair the failed vehicle.

The VRRAP program is administered through the local health departments. All questions regarding eligibility should be directed to these officials. VRRAP is available in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Salt Lake, Davis and Tooele counties. For more information and links to local health department pages, click here.

Mat CarlileI have worked with the Utah Division of Air Quality for 10 years. I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Brigham Young University. My wife Carrie and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary in June. We have four children. I love reading, investigating history, traveling, and playing basketball, volleyball, football, and ultimate Frisbee.