Utah gears up for new efforts to clear air as state regulators warn of stricter federal rules


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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is bringing back a failed effort to clear soot from Utah's skies.

Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, proposes that Utah allow state regulators to set pollution standards that are stricter than their federal counterparts'.

The state's mountains, weather and other factors combine in winter to create an air pollution problem unique to the state, Edwards told a legislative panel Wednesday. The state should be free to seek its own solutions to the singular problem, she said.

"This is not increasing regulation" she told the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee. "It's flexibility. It's innovation. It's about unique solutions."

In March, as the legislative session wrapped up, some lawmakers worried that "there wasn't enough input from the industry and that it could be a job killer," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, adding, "We need further discussion."

Edwards countered that she has worked with industries and clean-air advocates to craft the bill.

Lawmakers did pass a roster of other bills aimed at clearing pollution, including one to help owners of wood-burning stoves convert to cleaner fuel sources. Clean-air advocates praised the effort but said they want to see measures with heftier price tags, such as a program to beef up bus service around the state, find success in the coming year's legislative session.

Edwards said the state needs more leeway to determine how much pollution different sources are generating.

Bryce Bird, the director of Utah's Division of Air Quality, agreed. Federal regulations omit trends and patterns specific to Utah's valleys and winter weather, he told the committee. Researchers at the University of Utah are planning a series of such studies after lawmakers set aside funds for the research this year.

Since 2008, pollution from tailpipes has fallen 9 percent, Bird told the committee. He said that's evidence that statewide efforts are chipping away at the problem.

But the EPA is set to announce new federal smog standards next year, and Utah is likely to flunk under the new requirements, Bird told the panel.

Summer ozone levels in rural locations already surpass the proposed levels, according to the DAQ. The new national rules come after a lawsuit by environmental groups who alleged the Obama administration violated federal law by failing to issue a new standard by March 2013.

A federal judge ordered the EPA to issue ground-level ozone standards by December 2014 and to create a final rule by October 2015, the Deseret News reported.

Ozone is caused by sunlight reacting with pollutants from combustion engines, solvents and paints.

The panel natural resources panel is set to revisit Edward's measure in August, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

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