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Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Air Quality Sanctions Against Utah

November 18, 2010
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Air Quality Sanctions Against Utah

Proposed Rule Targets Clean Air Loophole
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303

Denver—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to sanction the State of Utah over its failure to eliminate a loophole in its air quality regulations that threatens clean air and public health. The proposal is available online here.

“With Utah’s health at stake, the last thing we need is a loophole allowing more pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “The EPA’s proposal is a positive step toward safeguarding kids, families, and everyone else who depends on clean air.”

In a proposal slated to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, the EPA announced it is proposing to find that Utah’s air quality regulations fail to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. In turn, the Agency is also proposing to sanction the State of Utah if the regulations aren’t fixed within 12 months. Sanctions could include pollution offsets and restrictions on highway funding.

At issue is an exemption in Utah’s air quality regulations that allows polluters to avoid compliance with any and all state and federal clean air laws and regulations, regardless of threats to public health and welfare, in the event of “breakdowns.” As early as 1978, the EPA has stated that exemptions to the Clean Air Act, even during breakdowns, are illegal.

In December of 2007, the group Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action petitioned the EPA to force Utah to eliminate the loophole. Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action since merged with WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit environmental group dedicated to protecting and restoring the American West, and in late 2009, WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the EPA to require Utah to eliminate the loophole. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement where EPA committed to take final action by February 28, 2011. Today’s proposal is the first step toward meeting this deadline.

The State of Utah has known that the breakdown loophole has been illegal for a number of years. In a December 2002 publication in the Federal Register, the State of Utah committed to eliminating the loophole. Eight years later, this loophole continues to exist. The EPA commented in one 2006 memo, “Utah has been advised on a number of occasions that the unavoidable breakdown is not consistent with EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act[.]”

“Breakdowns are preventable through regular maintenance, upgrades, and better planning,” said Nichols. “It just make sense that we should be safe, not sorry, and ensure our clean air rules prevent breakdowns, not accommodate them. No more breaks for breakdowns.”

The proposal comes as Utah is in the midst of planning a massive clean up of its fine particle pollution, or PM-2.5. Every year, about 2,000 Utah die prematurely because of PM-2.5 pollution. Exposure to unhealthy PM-2.5 shaves two years from the lives of people who live in it, about the same as smoking five cigarettes a day.

The EPA has designated the Cache Valley and the Wasatch Front from Ogden south to Provo as “nonattainment,” or “dirty air” areas because of violations of PM-2.5 standards. This designation puts the areas on the road to clean up and eliminating the “breakdown” loophole will be an important first step toward securing clean air safeguards for northern Utah.

Utah’s “breakdown” loophole can be downloaded online here.