Governor’s Clean Air Action Team Releases Recommendations

Poor air quality during certain periods of the year ranks as Utahns’ greatest concern about their quality of life, and it threatens not only our health but our economy as we seek to recruit and retain businesses and a high-quality workforce.

That’s why Governor Gary Herbert asked Envision Utah to convene and facilitate the Clean Air Action Team, which includes representatives from health care, business, nonprofit organizations, government, academia, transportation, and more. This independent team was tasked with working to provide a set of broadly supported recommendations to improve our air quality.

The team’s consensus recommendations were recently released and shared with the Governor, the legislature, and the Air Quality Board. These recommendations will make a substantial difference in the amount of emissions we put into our air. Moreover, the projected cost to Utahns is fairly minimal.


Summary of Recommendations

  1. Ensure Utahns have access to low-sulfur Tier 3 fuel as soon as possible.

  2. Accelerate the transition to cleaner Tier 3 cars. If all cars and fuel were Tier 3 by 2050 we would remove approximately 62% of mobile emissions per day from our air.

  3. Reduce the amount of wood burning that occurs during inversion periods. Eliminating residential wood burning would decrease daily area source emissions by about 5% in 2050.

  4. Invest additional resources in public transportation and facilities that make “active transportation” modes like biking and walking more convenient. By 2050, if we reduce the number of miles driven per capita by 10% we would reduce daily mobile emissions by roughly 8%.

  5. Allow the Air Quality Board and Division of Air Quality to adopt rules that are more stringent than federal regulations and continue to give the Division of Air Quality sufficient budget to continue effectively achieving its mission.

  6. Adopt a rule to require suppliers to sell only ultra-low NOx water heaters. Replacing all water heaters with ultra-low NOx models would reduce daily area emissions by about 5.3% in 2050.

  7. Increase the energy efficiency of our existing and new buildings. Increasing the efficiency of existing buildings could reduce area source emissions by about 1.7%. Increasing new building efficiency by 50% would eliminate approximately 2.4% of our area source emissions by 2050.

  1. Continue current efforts to reduce emissions from the oil & gas operations within the Uintah Basin.

Tier 3 Cars and Fuel

Vehicles make up approximately half of local emissions, a proportion that is decreasing as older cars are phased out and newer, cleaner cars are phased in. Reductions in the pollution emitted by our cars—through “Tier 3” cars and fuel—are projected to have a significantly greater impact in emissions reductions than any other strategy.

Tier 3 refers to an integrated system of vehicle and fuel standards nationwide that the EPA has adopted to replace the prior Tier 2 standards. With both the vehicles and fuel working together, the Tier 3 standards will reduce volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by 80% on a fleet average basis and direct particulate emissions by 70% on a per vehicle basis.  These reductions are achieved through improved vehicle emissions standards and by reducing the amount of sulfur in fuel from an average of 30 ppm to 10 ppm. The low-sulfur fuel is important because sulfur reduces the effectiveness of the advanced pollution control equipment in the vehicles.

Tier 3 cars are projected to cost on average $72 more than current Tier 2 cars. Tier 3 gasoline standards are estimated by the EPA to increase the cost of gasoline by less than a penny per gallon on a national basis. The actual cost to produce the cleaner fuels in Utah is unknown.

The EPA has adopted Tier 3 for phase-in beginning in model year 2017, but Utahns can accelerate the changeover by purchasing cars with higher smog ratings. A car with a smog rating of 8 or higher generally meets Tier 3 emission standards. Smog ratings run from 1 to 10, with 10 being the cleanest. Smog ratings for all new cars are shown on the window stickers, and those for used cars can be found at Buying a car with a high smog rating is probably the most important thing each of us can do for our air quality.

To achieve the full emissions reductions, Tier 3 cars also need low-sulfur fuel, but many of Utah’s refineries will not actually be required to produce or sell Tier 3 fuels in Utah. The EPA’s proposed fuel standards include an “averaging, banking, and trading” system that allows refiners and importers to spread out their investments, which means they would only need to meet a nationwide average to satisfy the fuel standards; if a large gasoline producer decides to produce cleaner fuel in another state, it may be able to average that out by producing fuel that is not as clean in Utah. The Clean Air Act also contains provisions that generally prevent an individual state like Utah from adopting its own fuel standards. If the refineries serving Utah decide to produce low-sulfur fuel, they will provide a significant benefit to our air quality.

Embrace Technology

Many of the Clean Air Action Team recommendations ask Utahns to embrace technologies that now exist to reduce our pollution. Whether it’s a car with a high smog rating or an ultra-low-NOx water heater, that technology can make a tremendous difference. Together, we can clear the air.

Build Your 2050 Utah

You can see the impacts of these air quality recommendations and numerous other choices and share your voice at With the Build Your 2050 Utah web app, you’ll be able to make choices about Utah’s future, watch them come to life, and share your voice. Afterwards, you’ll have a chance to invite those in your social networks to do the same. Just visit