Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lawmakers mull Gov. Herbert's clean air recommendations

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Jan. 30 3:55 p.m. MST

 Air quality suffers as an inversion covers the Salt Lake valley  Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's recommendations that Utah embrace Tier 3 standards and impose greater restrictions on wood burning are causing a buzz at the Utah Legislature. Some lawmakers have expressed doubts.

Air quality suffers as an inversion covers the Salt Lake valley Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's recommendations that Utah embrace Tier 3 standards and impose greater restrictions on wood burning are causing a buzz at the Utah Legislature. Some lawmakers have expressed doubts.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Recommendations by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and his Clean Air Action Team to invoke tighter restrictions on wood burning and accelerate a move to cleaner cars and fuel are key policy shifts that will require a legislative stamp of approval.

That sentiment came Thursday as GOP leadership in both the House and Senate expressed some reservations about a wholesale embrace of Herbert's charge to take immediate action to clean up Utah's dirty air.

"We are trying to work with the governor's office to make certain that the initiatives he is putting forward we can actually do," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, "but the Legislature does has to have a proper role to be able to make those things happen."

In Herbert's State of the State address Wednesday night and in recommendations detailed by his Clean Air Action Team, the governor said those Utah areas out of compliance with federal clean air standards should have tougher restrictions on wood burning during the inversion season.

While it remains unclear how tough those restrictions would be or if wood burning would be eliminated during the entire inversion season, some lawmakers voiced concern over a blanket ban.

"I see the Legislature tackling the wood burning issue after a very thorough study of what is reasonable," said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, adding that an outright ban on wood burning from November to February might be extreme.

"That may be a little heavy-handed. We need to be a little careful and a little bit reasonable on how we move forward that recommendation," Okerlund said.

The momentum to tackle wood burning as a source of winter pollution is on the uptick, fueled by a push from clean air advocates and an analysis released this month by the Utah Foundation. The study concluded that residential incineration of wood may be a larger contributor to airshed pollutants than suspected — up to 10 percent of winter air pollution — and one hour of burning is equivalent to eight hours in the car.

Both Okerlund and Valentine cautioned that enacting restrictions before a temperature inversion hits could be as effective but less personally intrusive than an outright ban, and perhaps the state could take more proactive steps in that arena.

Some lawmakers also questioned how easy and how practical it would be for Utah to embrace Tier 3 vehicle and fuel standards ahead of the federal government.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to move to the heightened standard in 2017 and phasing the new rules in over several years. Tier 3 would lower the sulfur content of gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million and require cleaner-burning emission controls on all new vehicles.

Proponents that include Herbert and the Utah Air Quality Board say the new standards would reduce certain pollutants by as much as 80 percent and represent one of the single most effective steps the state could take to combat its air quality struggles. A nationwide move to Tier 3, according to the EPA, would be the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road and produce annual health benefits of $30 billion by 2030.

Refineries, however, say it would require $10 billion in upgrades, and 16 refineries nationwide would have to be overhauled — resulting in higher gas prices at the pump.

Herbert said he wants the state to make the transition to cleaner fuel as quickly as possible, but lawmakers wondered what the practical impact of that would be.

"Until the federal standard becomes the standard, we would become an island in terms of the kind of fuels that we burn here," Valentine said.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said refineries aren't prepared to make such a costly move that would put businesses at risk and hurt consumers.

"What that’ll do to the consumer for the gain we get out that, I think we have to be, in my mind, very, very careful of that."

Even if Utah were to accelerate the change to a lower sulfur fuel, it would still take a couple of years before that type of gasoline would be sold at the pump. Because Utah refineries are smaller producing refineries, the proposed federal standard would give them a longer time frame to comply.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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1. rocklaw
Holladay, UT,
Jan. 30, 2014

Excuses, excuses. The public has spoken. Now listen to the legislators make every excuse they can come up with to avoid implementing the public will.

2. Million
Bluffdale, UT,
Jan. 31, 2014

So if someone always gets up late in the morning we should allow them to speed 100 mph down the freeway to get to work or if someone can't give up cigars then we give them an exemption to smoke in buildings? Or someone throws a fit they like to sit in front of their fireplace to relax their stress away then we should allow them exemptions to burn wood and coal? One coal burning unit can pollute one percent of the valley. It would pay to give free propane to those people to heat their homes who only have "wood" as their only source of heat. This is ridiculous.

3. carman
Wasatch Front, UT,
Jan. 31, 2014

With cheap and plentiful natural gas, and extremely efficient furnaces available, it makes no sense to burn wood for heat on the Wasatch Front. Wood is time consuming/expensive to cut, haul, split and stack. It is inefficient and contributes some of the worst pollutants in our air. The negative externalities from burning wood shift the total cost of heating the home with a wood-burning stove from the homeowner to his/her neighbors.

Its time to come out of the cave-man era, and switch to clean-burning natural gas. This move alone would cut the worse elements of air pollution significantly, and overall pollution levels substantially.

4. Tire_Guy
Salt Lake City, UT,
Jan. 31, 2014

The biggest contributor to our bad air quality is vehicle emissions so the Governor and Legislature want to pass legislation for cleaner cars and fuel which will take years to implement. Instead they could improve air quality immediately by allowing State workers to telecommute but that's never discussed. What are they afraid of?

5. ArgoFY
Salt Lake City, Utah,
Jan. 31, 2014

Notice how the governor and Utah lawmakers always conspicuously leave industry off the table as a recommendation for reducing Utah's horrible air? They take the 'let's all cut way back on polluting on an individual scale, so our precious big businesses in Utah can continue to do nothing. That way, Utah's economy will always be better off.' My question is, better off for whom? Have you ever seen those 'smaller scale' refineries? Those things are the equivalent of ten-thousand single home fireplaces burning all at once. Add in Kennecott, Stericycle, the NSA building, Hill AFB, etc...and it's little wonder Utah has some of the worst air in the country. If our illustrious governor and his cronies were truly serious about bettering Utah's air quality, they would impose a pollution cap on those businesses, while stopping the tax break and polluting incentives they have used in the past to attract big polluters to Utah in the first place.

I'm not saying that we as individuals shouldn't be doing our part, but it won't do a lot of good if other responsible parties in Utah don't also take responsibility.