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Volkswagen Settlement to Reduce Emissions, Improve Utah Air

By Lisa Burr

2010 Volkswagen Golf with defeat device. Photo credit: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Efforts to improve Utah’s air quality are getting a big boost thanks to a nationwide $15.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen (VW) for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Utah is set to receive approximately $35 million from the settlement to offset nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from the approximately 7,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles in the state affected by VW’s violations. Governor Herbert designated the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as the lead agency to administer these monies.

DEQ is seeking public input for the Environmental Mitigation Plan (EMP) that will identify the categories of eligible vehicles/equipment to be funded. The public input process begins November 1, 2017, and ends November 30, 2017.

Volkswagen Settlement: A Brief History

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Notice of Violation against VW for installing “defeat devices” that falsified emission-certification results in VW, Audi, and Porsche diesel passenger vehicles. While the vehicles complied with federal limits during certification testing, they emitted up to 40 times the federal NOx limit under normal driving conditions.

VW ultimately admitted to secretly installing “cheat” software in some of its model year 2009-2016 diesel vehicles. Approximately 500,000 vehicles with 2.0-liter diesel engines and 80,000 vehicles with 3.0-liter engines were fitted with the illegal software.

DEQ determined that excess NOx emissions from the affected VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles contributed an estimated 230.1 tons-per-year to Utah’s airsheds. Approximately 70 percent of the affected vehicles are registered in the seven counties designated as nonattainment for particulate matter (PM2.5) under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

DEQ’s Role

Weight class 8. Click on photo for larger view.

DEQ’s responsibilities as lead agency include the development of an Environmental Mitigation Plan. The VW settlement identified certain categories of vehicles and equipment that are eligible for funding under the agreement. Utah’s EMP will determine which categories the state will target for that funding. Eligible engine or vehicle/equipment replacements include:


  • Class 8 local freight trucks (large trucks)
  • Class 4-8 school buses, shuttle buses, or transit buses
  • Freight switchers
  • Class 4-7 local freight trucks (medium trucks)
  • Airport ground-support equipment
  • Forklifts
Volkswagen Settlement

Weight Class 4-7. Click on photo for larger view.

In addition, the settlement allows the state to use up to 15 percent of its allocation for certain light-duty, zero-emission vehicle supply equipment and light-duty, hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle supply equipment. Utah can also use the funds as part of its non-federal voluntary match for Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) projects.

DEQ Executive Director Alan Matheson created an advisory committee to develop recommendations for Utah’s EMP. The committee, composed of representatives from multiple organizations, was asked to identify and evaluate eligible mitigation actions, suggest funding options, and develop recommendations for public review and comment. The committee recommended funding allocations from the settlement monies as follows:

  • Fifty-two percent for Class 8 (large) local freight trucks
  • Twenty-five percent for Class 4-7 (medium) local freight trucks
  • Eleven percent for light-duty, zero-emission-vehicle supply equipment
  • Seven percent for Class 4-8 school buses, shuttle buses, or transit buses
  • Five percent for administrative costs

These recommendations, along with input from the public, will help guide DEQ in its development of the final EMP.

Public Participation

The agency invites the public to comment on Utah’s EMP during a public-input process beginning November 1, 2017, and ending November 30, 2017. Commenters can use an interactive calculator to help them evaluate eligible vehicle/equipment categories and associated costs for NOx reductions before making their selections. DEQ will summarize the selections and comments received during the public comment period and make them available to the public for review.

DEQ is also developing a Request for Information (RFI) process to give private and public fleet owners the opportunity to submit specific vehicle/equipment replacements to the agency for evaluation for potential funding. Fleet owners can register on the State’s Supplier Portal, SciQuest, to receive an email notification when the RFI process begins.


The VW Settlement funding offers Utah a great opportunity to improve its air quality, protect the health of its residents, and help businesses “green” their fleets with cleaner transportation options.

We want to hear from you! Mark your calendar so you can provide input when the comment period opens. Your input will help us select projects that offset pollution generated by the VW defeat devices and reduce NOx emissions in the state for years to come.
Want to learn more about the settlement? Visit our new VW Settlement webpage to find detailed information  about the settlement process, consent decree terms, eligible projects, and the work of the VW Advisory Committee. 

I have worked for the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) for eight years. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree from Weber State University and was employed there for 13 years before coming to DAQ. I enjoy cooking, entertaining, camping, traveling, and spending time with my sisters (that’s me on the right.)

This entry was originally published on October 2nd, 2017, updated on October 10th, 2017, and posted in news.

Partnership Ensures Clean Air, Land and Water in the Uinta Basin

By Jared Mendenhall

The Uinta Basin faces dozens of unique environmental issues. Safeguarding air, land and water in the region requires state and local agencies to work together.

Jordan Mathis, health officer and executive director of TriCounty Health Department, which serves Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties.

Resourcefulness is as much a part of the frontier ethos as individualism. Coming up with ingenious solutions to life’s problems — on the cheap — is an essential skill in the rural expanses of the American West.

Jordan Mathis, health officer and executive director of TriCounty Health Department, understands this. In fact, he lives it daily as he works to promote, protect and improve the health of residents in Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties.

This was especially evident in his earliest weeks on the job. As fate would have it, TriCounty was the first district in Utah to have a resident travel from one of the African countries affected by Ebola.

As soon as TriCounty Health was aware of the possible infection, a plan was hatched. Mathis led efforts to coordinate the response with county officials and local health-care providers. Some of the ingenious solutions he came up to handle the potential outbreak included checking in daily with the patient over Apple’s FaceTime app to see if he was showing any signs of Ebola and, if needed, commandeering a county-owned RV trailer to act as a mobile quarantine and treatment station.

The patient never developed any symptoms and the crisis was averted.

That pioneering spirit of improvisation and maximizing resources, however, is in play each day in the relationship TriCounty Health shares with Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality and plays a key role in protecting the air, land and water in the Uinta Basin

The unique wintertime ozone in the Uinta Basin isalmost exclusively driven by VOC emissions from oil-and-gas production. When large amounts of these precursors are trapped in thermal inversions, which are typical in the Basin, there is enough power in the UV reflection from the snow on the ground to spark the chemical reactions that create ozone.

One of the success stories of this partnership is highlighted by the work being done to address the unique wintertime ozone in the region. Working with the Bingham Center at Utah State University, they have made advancement in identifying the extent and causes of ozone pollution in the Basin.

These efforts have shown that the ozone pollution was almost exclusively driven by VOC emissions from oil-and-gas production. When large amounts of these precursors are trapped in thermal inversions, which are typical in the Basin, there is enough power in the UV reflection from the snow on the ground to spark the chemical reactions that create ozone.

Ongoing monitoring and outreach programs are now helping to address air quality in the region.

Nathan Hall, DEQ district engineer, tests groundwater in neighborhood outside Rosevelt, Utah.

The point person in DEQ’s relationship with TriCounty Health is the district engineer, a DEQ employee stationed in the area works hand-in-hand with the health department. The engineer is the go-to guy for each of DEQ’s five divisions – Air Quality, Water Quality, Drinking Water, Waste Management and Radiation Control, and Environmental Response and Remediation.

This, however, is just one part of the partnership between the two agencies. TriCounty and DEQ have a formal work plan that outlines responsibilities and funding for various environmental projects in the Basin. A few of the projects outlined in the 2016 work plan include the implementation of a wood-burning stove education plan, ensuring source protection for drinking water, and protecting public health from exposure to contamination caused by improper disposal of solid and hazardous waste.

The quality of life in the Uinta Basin depends on this work plan every day to ensure that tap water is clean, sewer systems are working, and environmental messes are cleaned up.

Safeguarding Utah’s air, land and water requires unique, creative approaches. Agencies like TriCounty Health and DEQ will continue to find areas where they can work together to ensure state and local agencies are responsible for taxpayer dollars and maximize efforts in serving the citizens of Utah through balanced regulation.

To learn more about ozone pollution in the Uinta Basin, click here.

I am a public information officer for DEQ and a former marketer and magazine editor. Follow me on Instagram @Jarv801.

This entry was originally published on September 25th, 2017, updated on October 10th, 2017, and posted in news.

At DEQ, It’s Always Mission POSSIBLE

By The Fun Committee

mission possible

Nicole Pellicori sends a water balloon flying during the DEQ Picnic.

Our Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employees don’t just “talk the talk” when it comes to our mission, vision, and values. We live it, individually and collectively, every day. We know that clean air, land, and water are important to the people of Utah, and we take our responsibility to safeguard these precious resources very seriously.

But we’re not always serious! Sometimes we need to reboot, clear our minds, and enjoy ourselves with our colleagues at our annual DEQ picnic.

This year, we wanted to focus on our DEQ “Mission, Vision and Values” as the theme for our annual picnic, so the DEQ Fun Committee (yes, that’s our committee’s name, and we’re proud of it!) decided to do a play on the Mission ImPossible theme. (Peter Graves for us older folks, and Tom Cruise for you millennials.) We chose this play-on-words because we believe our mission is ALWAYS possible, and we work hard every day to make sure we fulfill it.

Our mission (should we choose to accept it…and WE DO!) is “safeguarding and improving Utah’s air, land and water through balanced regulation.” This doesn’t happen by walking into work and sitting at a desk. It takes dedication, pride, and the right people—people who are willing to live our four values:

  • Exceptional Service
  • Commitment to Employees
  • Credibility and Trust
  • Continuous Improvement

As part of our theme, we focused on our value of “Exceptional Service.” For us, exceptional service isn’t just about our customers and stakeholders, it’s also about the “service” we can provide to our communities through work-sponsored donation and service opportunities.


Our service project for the summer was “Fill-The-Cube.” Our “mission” was providing families at the Road Home Family Center in Midvale with needed clothing and supplies. We put out plastic bins on each floor for employees to place their donations. Each Friday, we unloaded the bins and placed the items in an empty cubicle on the second floor.  We were amazed by the generosity of our staff! By the end of the summer, the cubicle was filled to overflowing, and we had collected an additional $378 in cash donations for the Center.

mission possible

DEQ employees loading up the vans with donations to the Road Home

Early in the morning on the day of our picnic, DEQ employees packed all the donations into two large vans. When we arrived at the Center, the children were already waiting for the school bus. The coordinator came up to us and thanked us for providing the children with school clothes and other needed items for their families. We even filled up all their donation bins!! It was so rewarding to see that we were able to make a difference.

Commitment to Employees

One of our DEQ values is “Commitment to Employees.” While that usually entails professional development, employee support, and training opportunities, our Executive Director Alan Matheson thinks it’s important for us to have fun, too! The picnic is a great way for us to come together as a department and not worry about the normal responsibilities we face every day. When you work that hard, you also need to be able to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

mission possible

The picnic was a combination of great food, fun games, and time spent together in a beautiful place. As you can see from the pictures, we really enjoy being with each other! After months of drafting permits, attending meetings, and collecting water samples, we can still kick back with a friendly game of horseshoes, a competitive game of kickball, and a take-no-prisoners water-balloon fight. And who knew how exciting playing bingo could be? Best of all, our Fun Committee was able to make this all happen on a very tight budget.

mission possible

Jodi Gardberg doesn’t mess around when she’s playing kickball

Thanks to the support of so many, we were able to have this amazing picnic and put a service project together that was such a great blessing to the shelter. When our employees see a need — whether it’s finding ways to improve our air, land, and water, or helping those in our community — we  meet it head on!

mission possible

Scott Baird takes aim at the photographer

Thanks to all the DEQ employees who contributed to our Fill-the-Cube service project and brought their sense of play and good humor to our picnic!
mission possible

Marie Owens frightens Alan Matheson with her T-shirt.

The Fun Committee:
  • Elisa Smith (Division of Environmental Response and Remediation)  
  • Deborah Ng (Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control)  
  • Arlene Lovato (Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control)  
  • Dyani Wood (Division of Drinking Water)
  • Gary Kobzeff (Division of Drinking Water)  
  • Jay Baker (Division of Air Quality) 
  • Nicole Pellicori (Finance) 
  • Laurie Leib (Finance)  
  • Jodie Swanson (DEQ Web Team)
  • Catherine Llewelyn (DEQ Front Desk) 
  • Jenny Potter (Executive Director’s Office) 

This entry was originally published on September 18th, 2017, updated on September 21st, 2017, and posted in news.

Ozone: Dog Days of Summer Have Us All Panting For Cleaner Air

By Donna Kemp Spangler

Many people have said to me this summer, “It seems like we’ve had a lot of unhealthy air days.” Turns out, it’s true. Utah is experiencing the worst air pollution, particularly ozone, in a decade. Record heat and massive wildfires have taken their toll on Utah’s air. As a result, the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is seeing some of the highest number of exceedances of the federal ozone standard in the last ten years.




DAQ monitors and records the federal ozone standard, set at 70 parts per billion (ppb), over an eight-hour period. When that standard is violated on any given day, it is recorded as an “exceedance.” As of Labor Day 2017, Salt Lake County has had more non-compliance days (22) since 2007 (40). Davis County has nearly set its record of 15, last seen in 2008. Only Utah County has seen a slight decline in ozone this year.




Ozone occurs as a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds – emissions largely from motor vehicles, but also consumer products, gasoline-powered lawn equipment, and industrial sources. During the summer, these chemicals react with sunlight to create ozone, and as temperatures change throughout the day, so do the levels of ozone. Subtle changes can move the ozone needle either above or below the healthy mark. Ozone can be harmful to sensitive populations, such as individuals with lung disease or asthma, children and older adults. On days when the ozone is higher than the federal standard, sensitive groups are cautioned to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion. But on occasion, the levels are so unhealthy, everyone should heed the warnings.

If there is a silver lining to this bad year, the trends show that the air is improving, thanks to several notable steps, including:

  • Encouraging refineries to produce cleaner “Tier 3”
  • Enacting 30 new rules that reduce emissions from the “area sources” that contribute 39 percent of our air pollution. 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.
  • Urging the public to drive less or use public transit.

The tricky thing about ozone is it’s invisible. You can’t judge the air quality just by how it looks. Just because it looks hazy, doesn’t necessarily mean the air quality conditions are unhealthy. That’s why it’s important to check the quality of air each day by going to DAQ’s web page. You can learn more about what you can do to protect your health and improve Utah’s air by visiting UCAIR or Utah Clean Air Partnership.

As bad as it’s been, relief is in sight. Cooler temps can give us a respite before the upcoming winter inversion season hits. In the meantime, don’t take air quality for granted. On a clear and healthy day, share a picture on Instagram, and tag DEQ.

Donna SpanglerI am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I am a frequent blog contributor. You can read my previous blog posts at You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna

This entry was originally published on September 11th, 2017, updated on September 11th, 2017, and posted in news.

Utah Celebrates Ten Years of “Idle-Free”

By Tammie Bostick-Cooper, Guest Blogger

idle freeSeptember marks the 10th year of the Idle-Free Governor’s Declaration in Utah. Our state had the first Idle-Free campaign in the nation, and it all started in Salt Lake City. Since 2007, more than 50 Utah mayors have signed the declaration. And in 2011, Salt Lake City–where it all began–became the second city in Utah to adopt an Idle-Free ordinance.

The “Idle-Free in Utah” Declaration plays an important role in the progress being made towards cleaner air in the state. Idling vehicles emit particulate matter and other pollutants that are known to cause serious health problems. Vehicle exhaust makes up about half of the air pollution in Utah, and unnecessary idling contributes a significant amount of emissions into our air shed each day.

Air quality is a complex issue. There is no “silver bullet” solution to solving our air-pollution challenges. The Idle-Free Campaign helps each of us understand the importance of taking small steps to help to clean the air. It also helps us understand that each action we can take, however small it may seem, combines with the actions that others take to make real improvement.

Our state leadership paved the way for Idle Free over the past ten years. In 2008, Representative Christine Johnson and Senator Mike Dmitrich sponsored House Bill 146, which required the State Board of Education, in consultation with local school districts and the State Air Quality Board, to implement an idling-reduction program for all school-bus drivers in the state and adopt idling reduction standards in their operations. In 2010, Representative Carol Spackman Moss and Senator Patricia Jones sponsored House Joint Resolution 5, encouraging drivers of passenger vehicles to avoid idling for more than 10-15 seconds. This resolution also encouraged drivers of delivery vehicles and long-haul truck operators to use one of several available idle-control technologies, such as auxiliary power units and truck stop electrification, to reduce the need to idle in our unique climate. Legislation like this encourages business owners to post anti-idling signage and information for their customers to refrain from idling.

Idle freeWith support from this legislation, Utah Clean Cities, all Utah School Districts, and the Utah State Board of Education developed and put into place a school-bus idling-reduction program and elementary-student education plan to inform youth and the general public about the benefits of reduced idling. The Idle-Free Education Program, developed by Utah Clean Cities, Breathe Utah, and the Utah Society for Environmental Education and the State Health Department’s Asthma Program and Recess Guide, has reached more than 10,000 students across 400 schools.

This month we not only start the 10th Idle-Free Campaign but also Utah’s official Idle-Free Season, the time of year when we experience winter inversions and poor air quality.

You may ask yourself as an individual, as a member of your community and a citizen of the state of Utah what can you do? It’s simple. Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free. It’s a ten second commitment and everyone can do it. We are all in this together.

Join us at our anniversary event on Wednesday, September 6th at 9 a.m. at the Utah State Capitol! The event will highlight idle-free milestones, led by the State Board of Education with idle-free bus policies, and recognize the first Utah Cities to be Idle-Free: Park City, Salt Lake City, Alta, Holladay, Logan, Cottonwood Heights, and Murray. Hope to see you there!
Other significant successes will be celebrated across the state with local Idle-Free campaigns at schools, government entities, businesses, fleets, and communities.

I am the Executive Director of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition, joining UCC in 2015 as the Northern Coordinator. I consider my career at Utah Clean Cities a dream job of collaborative work, thinking globally and acting locally in a world where everyone is an ally. I believe there has never been a more compelling time to be involved with transportation and to answer the urgent call to change our dependence on imported fossil fuels. There are no perfect fuels, but there are practical solutions leading to them.

I grew up ranching and close to nature. I graduated from the University of Utah and worked with children on the Ute Indian Reservation. I raised two smart and capable children, Alexia and Cole Cooper, in a small, off-the-grid cabin in the high Uintas. Both attend Westminster College in Salt Lake. 

This entry was originally published on September 5th, 2017, updated on September 12th, 2017, and posted in news.

ULend Program Helps Oil and Gas Operators Reduce Emissions

By Whitney Oswald

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) believes sound science leads to good decisions and effective regulations. That’s why we conduct research on complex air-quality issues — to identify causes and find solutions.

For example, we’ve seen an increase in winter ozone levels in the Uinta Basin in recent years, and that increase appears to be tied to the growth in oil-and-gas operations in the region. We know oil-and-gas facilities emit ozone precursors like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but we want to target the sources of these precursors using the right tools.

Our research shows that using an infrared (IR) camera to find equipment leaks can help reduce the fugitive VOC emissions that contribute to the formation of ozone, and that’s the idea behind the new ULend program. By loaning a state-of-the-art IR camera to operators — particularly small oil-and-gas producers who might not be able to afford the kind of expensive equipment that could help them identify and repair VOC leaks early — ULend can help reduce emissions, reduce costs, and improve compliance.

VOC Leaks at Oil and Gas Operations

In 2016, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) received legislative funding for the Storage Tank Emissions Pilot Project (STEPP), a collaborative program that used an infrared (IR) camera to check for leaks in oil and gas tanks in the Uinta Basin. The research showed that almost 40 percent of the more than 400 well pads visited had some type of VOC leak. While these leaks are not the only source of VOC emissions in the Basin, they may make a significant contribution to elevated ozone levels during winter inversions.

Based on these research findings, the 2017 Utah Legislature appropriated $200,000 in air-quality research money to fund the ULend program, providing oil-and-gas operators with a practical way to reduce VOC leaks at their facilities.

ULend program

IR cameras are an effective and efficient technology for detecting VOC leaks in oil-and-gas equipment.

ULend Program Benefits

Product leaks at oil-and-gas facilities can be difficult to detect. IR cameras offer a proven technology for locating hard-to-find leaks, but the cameras can be prohibitively expensive for small operators. Under the program, companies can get certified in optical gas-imaging (OGI) and borrow an IR camera. The program benefits operators in a number of ways:

  • While many leaks at oil and gas operations are relatively easy to repair, they can be difficult to see. An IR camera helps operators locate fugitive VOC emissions that are not normally visible to the naked eye.
  • Operators can inspect their own sites with an IR camera to identify and repair leaks. This proactive approach minimizes leaks that have the potential to become a compliance issue.
  • DAQ will be able to use the information provided by program participants to increase its understanding of the source(s) and frequency of leaks. Repair data will help ensure that DEQ regulations target fugitive VOC emissions in an appropriate, cost-effective manner.
ULend program

Infrared cameras can “see” leaks that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Program Features

The ULend program alleviates much of the cost burden associated with leak-detection programs. Companies can forego the purchase of a $100,000 IR camera as well as the added cost of hiring a camera contractor (about $7,000/week) since ULend will provide training in the camera’s use to program participants.

Operators utilizing the borrowed cameras will be asked to share some simple data — basic facility information, date of site visit, specific leak location, how the leak was addressed, and associated costs — with DAQ. These data will be used solely for research purposes, not compliance actions.

Collaborative Effort, Positive Outcomes

The ULend program is a great example of what can be accomplished when industry and government work together. DAQ has partnered with Utah State University, the Bingham Research Center, and the Tri-County Health Department for this project, with additional support from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).

This partnership will yield some important benefits to operators:

  • Industry will save money by reducing the amount of saleable product lost from equipment leaks.
  • Increases in compliance will decrease costs for industry and DAQ’s air–quality compliance program.
  • Data collected through the program will help DAQ craft targeted regulations that are effective at reducing VOC emissions without applying an undue or unnecessary burden on the oil and gas industry.

These kinds of cooperative efforts help us develop innovative and effective ways to reduce the area’s VOC emissions. Fewer emissions mean lower ozone levels and better air quality for Basin residents at a lower cost to operators. And those are outcomes we can all get behind.

Want to learn more about the ULend program? Visit us at! If you’re interested in participating in the Ulend program, sign up on our website to be added to our contact list. We will be in touch with you when the program begins this fall.

I am an environmental scientist with the Technical Analysis section at DAQ. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Utah State University and a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Utah. When not working, I love traveling and spending time outdoors with my husband and two dogs.


This entry was originally published on August 28th, 2017, updated on August 28th, 2017, and posted in news.