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Pollution report

Salt Lake Tribune

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s 2011 report on pollution contains some positive developments and also some worrisome trends.

Over the 20 years of the DEQ’s existence, as the report points out, air quality along the Wasatch Front has shown some improvement. But, as Utahns who live within the state’s most urban corridor know all too well, there are too many days when visibility is nearly nil, when they cough, their eyes and throats get sore and chronic and even fatal illnesses worsen. That is not acceptable.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 published a list of areas in the nation that do not meet new federal standards for fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5. All of Salt Lake and Davis counties, parts of Weber, Box Elder and Tooele counties, and low-lying portions of Utah and Cache counties are all on the list. Utah must come up with a plan to achieve compliance with the new rules by December of this year.

While the DEQ has created several programs to provide grants and incentives to companies and public entities to clean up their fleets, the results are not nearly good enough. Worse, the Utah Legislature revised the state’s Clean Air and Efficient Vehicle Tax Incentives program last year to reduce the tax credit amount for clean fuel vehicles other than electric cars that meet the air quality and fuel economy standards.

Reducing incentives for purchasing more energy-efficient vehicles makes no sense in light of tighter federal pollution standards and the fact that vehicles are a significant contributor to air pollution along the Wasatch Front. Also, the Beehive State was one of five states to pull out of the Western Climate Initiative formed to implement an emissions trading program in the West. This group is afraid of stepping on the toes of the energy-development industry. Unfortunately, Utah fits in well.

The report gives no indication what the Radiation Control Board under DEQ will do with requests from EnergySolutions to be allowed to take depleted uranium and blended waste at its Clive disposal site. The DEQ should stand firm against both.

We are also concerned that Amanda Smith, executive director of DEQ, is also Gov. Gary Herbert’s energy adviser in the Office of Energy Development. While efforts to encourage renewable energy development might fit the DEQ’s mission to protect public health, oil and gas drilling and oil shale development seem at odds with what her role at the DEQ should be.