The Utah Air Quality Board voted Wednesday afternoon to reject even considering three proposed rules designed to strengthen oversight of the state’s biggest industrial polluters.
Clean air advocates who proposed the rules expressed dismay that the appointed board chose to not even open the matter for public comment, discussion and debate. The result is that Utahns will not even have the opportunity to explore new methods to clean the air and provide more protections for public health from industrial pollution.
The three new rules, first presented last October to Utah's eight-member Air Quality Board by representatives from HEAL Utah, Western Resource Advocates, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, would have applied to some of Utah's biggest air pollution sources (“point sources”) such as power plants, oil refineries and cement plants. Clean air advocates say that the rules are needed to prevent bad air days, better enforce existing clean air laws, and ensure that emissions from new pollution sources are offset by emission reductions elsewhere within a facility.
“To not put out these common sense proposals for public comment and debate by the Board is a disservice to Utah,” said Joro Walker, Senior Staff Attorney and Utah Office Director at Western Resource Advocates. “Utah is in 'serious' violation of the Clean Air Act now, and every day we don’t address this air pollution is a day where public health suffers. Now is the time to take every measure we can to reduce emissions. This vote was a squandered opportunity to take an important step in the right direction.”
The Board voted “No” at the urging of state regulators at the Division of Air Quality, arguing that to even consider the proposed rules would be “burdensome” and require “months” of work.
“It’s depressing that our state air quality regulators claim that having a robust debate about innovative proposals to limit air pollution is too much to ask,” said Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s Executive Director. “Utahns want a willingness to look far and wide for solutions to our air quality challenges, not excuses.”
“This action shows that state officials are not doing their best to try and address the problem. Every single day that Utah’s air exceeds health and safety standards, we risk the lives of our youngest, oldest and most vulnerable citizens,” said Tim Wagner of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “We cannot afford to wait longer to adopt practical measures to clean up our dirty air.”
Because Utah's population is expected to double in the coming decades, regulators should look for pollution cuts from multiple sectors, say the organizations. While it's critically important to reduce pollution from cars and make buildings and homes more efficient, we must also tighten controls on industry and not allow the state's biggest industrial polluters to make Utah's dirty air problem worse.
Under Utah law, citizens and stakeholders can suggest new rules to strengthen state programs to protect public health. In today's case, the rules were designed to make sure that big industry is staying within its permit limits and to ensure that all protective public health measures are being taken. The Board was asked in October by clean air advocates to put the rules out for public comment. They had hoped that the Board would then take a second vote several months later on whether to put the rules into effect. Wednesday’s vote instead prevents any public comment or consideration by the Board of the following proposed rules:
1. Prevent Bad Air Days: Impose 24-hour limits on our biggest industrial polluters to prevent short-term spikes in emissions.
2. Require Daily Monitoring by Big Polluters: Mandate continuous emission monitoring and annual stack testing where feasible, so that state officials and the public have greater confidence that industry is not polluting more than it is allowed.
3. Ensure All Substantial New Industry Pollution Increases Gets Offset:Require facilities to find offsets for all sizable emission increases, to ensure their overall pollution doesn’t add up to create major air pollution.
A more detailed description of the proposed rules can be found here.