Guest opinion: Good clean air progress; more needs to be done

When I began my legislative service, I asked one of the senior legislators how he thought I could make a difference? His answer, “Just listen to your constituents, they’ll tell you what to do.”

So I have listened and what I continually hear, is, “What are you doing to clean up our air?” Several years ago I joined the bi-partisan Clean Air Caucus. I listened to scientists and clean air advocates and learned that even though our air is better today than it was 10 plus years ago, some counties, both in urban and rural areas, are out of compliance.

I also learned that nearly 50% of our problems on the Wasatch Front come from tailpipe admissions. I applaud organizations like UCAIR for their continual efforts at education encouraging each person to take responsibility for less driving, especially on red-air days.

Next month, Andeavor, formerly Tesoro, will break ground to begin producing Tier 3 gasoline that once available, will make a huge difference in reducing dirty emissions.

I’m proud to report that I’ve had some success with cleaner-fuel vehicles including school buses. We’ve received several million dollars from the Volkswagen cheating scandal that is now being employed to purchase clean-fuel school buses.

We’ve also made air quality progress in the Uintah Basin, but more remains to be done.

Several important steps were taken during the recently-concluded legislative session:

New scientists and analysts at the Division of Air Quality—Appropriations were approved for a Stack Test Auditor and a Technical Analysis Scientist, which will help the division better analyze the contributors to poor air. I was pleased to sponsor both of these appropriation requests.

Air Quality Research Building Block—A $500,000 appropriation was approved so that DAQ can focus on pollution problems along the Wasatch Front and in the Uintah Basin.

TRAX Air Quality Monitoring—An appropriation for $100,000 was approved to assist scientists from the U. who place monitoring equipment on TRAX trains as they map differing levels of air quality in the valley.

SIP Development—The Division of Air Quality will be able to hire an additional individual to ensure that the state is working toward compliance with the State Improvement Plan or SIP.

HB101 Air Quality Emissions Testing passed. It creates a three-year pilot program to test diesel vehicle emissions in nonattainment counties that currently test gasoline emissions.

HB 211 Freight Switcher Mitigation—This was my bill that sought a $2 million appropriation to work with the Union Pacific and leverage DERA, Diesel Emission Reduction Act funds, to retrofit a few of the old railroad yard locomotives that are identified contributors to air pollution. The bill failed to get funding this year.

In addition, the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), recently took a positive step forward to reduce Utah’s pollution problems in the Uintah Basin by proposing rules to cut volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from equipment located at oil and gas production facilities. Parts of Duchesne and Uintah counties are struggling to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards for unhealthy smog pollution.

This important progress needs to be followed up with requirements for frequent and comprehensive methane leak inspections at oil and gas wells, which could significantly reduce emissions, while also improving operators’ bottom lines by maximizing recovered product. 

All in all, I think Utah is making progress improving air quality. We need to keep listening and learning because the problem isn’t going away and requires our constant attention.