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Proposed EPA action on Utah air quality applauded by advocates

Apr 14, 2022, 12:23 PM | Updated: Apr 15, 2022, 1:23 pm
bad air quality around the capitol. The EPA is looking to change Utah's designation....
Thick haze shrouds the Capitol and downtown Salt Lake City on the second day of the legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Photo credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Environmental Protection Agency is looking at changing Northern Wasatch Front’s air quality attainment status. The agency’s proposed actions were applauded by groups advocating for a healthy environment.

The EPA’s proposed actions

The Northern Wasatch Front is currently considered by the EPA as being in the “marginal” status for non-attainment. The proposed decision would reclassify the area as “moderate” instead.

The EPA said it based its proposed actions on the state’s failure to meet the 2015 national air quality standard for ground-level ozone by the required year– 2021.

Ground-level ozone is caused when pollutants are emitted and react to sunlight. Cars, power plants, and other sources emit those pollutants.

The agency said a review of air quality monitoring data from 2018 to 2020 determined the state’s failure.

The reclassification of an area means the state would have to do more to clean up the air and reduce emissions. The Clean Air Act requires the state to protect public health and to submit new plans to show what it will do to attain air quality standards. 

The EPA said the act works to ensure that smog-affected areas meet health-based air quality standards for ozone as fast as possible. The agency will work to help the state put forth measures to protect clean air.

The agency also proposed the rejection of the state’s 179B(b) International Transport demonstration for the Northern Wasatch Front.

This demonstration sought to avoid the reclassification of the area to a higher non-attainment status. The state claimed it would have attained standards if it weren’t for pollution coming from international sources.

Response from air quality advocates

The Western Resource Advocates group aims to protect air, water, and land across seven states, including Utah, according to its website.

“This draft decision by EPA is the right call and, if finalized, would require the state of Utah to take specific and concrete action to tackle the Northern Wasatch Front’s ozone pollution crisis,” said Joro Walker, WRA’s general counsel based in Salt Lake City. 

WRA urged Utahns to submit a comment about the agency’s proposal online. The EPA’s proposed actions are currently under a 60-day public comment period, which ends June 13.

“This will help address climate change while protecting Utahns, particularly children and residents in disproportionately impacted communities, from the devastating health consequences of ozone pollution,” Walker said.

WRA is not the only group supporting the EPA’s proposed actions. The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment also released a statement.

“Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment strongly support the EPA’s ruling, and we’re confident Utah residents do as well,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of the group.

“We should not forget that this saga was a betrayal of the public trust by our most powerful politicians that allowed our biggest industrial polluters to hijack the expertise and personnel of a critical state agency,” Moench added.

Other actions

The EPA’s proposal also found the Southern Wasatch Front’s “marginal” non-attainment area as having attained the 2015 standard. 

The agency also proposed granting a one-year extension to the Uinta Basin area’s attainment date. It proposes the date be extended to August 3, 2022.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the EPA proposed to determine the Southern Wasatch Front as a “marginal” non-attainment area.

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Proposed EPA action on Utah air quality applauded by advocates