Utah came one step closer toward alleviating its air quality problem last week as the state's Air Quality Board voted on Wednesday to support the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed emissions and vehicle standards.

The standards, known as Tier III, propose a two-pronged approach to fighting pollution. The first would require a two-thirds cut in the sulfur content of gasoline (from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm). The second would mandate new vehicle pollution control technologies such as larger catalytic converters and redesigned fuel tanks and lines.

HEAL Utah is a 501(c) (3) non-profit that is pushing for support of these standards in Utah. Christopher Thomas, Executive Director of HEAL Utah, explained why the Tier III standards are crucial.

"One of the really neat things about this standard is it treats the gas and the catalytic converter as one system, so they fit hand-in-glove," Thomas said.

One critique of the Tier III standards is that gas prices could rise. According to the Institute for Energy Research, Tier III could raise gas prices by as much as nine cents per gallon. Thomas, however, contends that Tier III would only increase prices by "a penny."

In addition, Utah Air Quality Board member Karma M. Thompson of the Salt Lake City Tesoro refinery, expressed reservations about Tier III, noting that it would increase costs for five Salt Lake City area refineries. Thompson did eventually vote to approve the Board's letter of support for Tier III to the EPA.


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The EPA estimates that the Tier III standards could lead to 30 percent cuts in key pollutants such as nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 2030.

Such pollutants, Thomas said, are the chief culprits in the Wasatch Front's wintertime inversions, which reverse normal atmospheric conditions and usually occur after snowfalls. During an inversion, a middle layer of warm air traps pollutants in cold air near the surface.

Together with the already instituted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, Thomas says Tier III could lead to a 70 to 80 percent reduction in these pollutants that cause wintertime inversions.

Addressing the pollution problem at the individual vehicle level is a great idea especially for Utah, says HEAL Utah's Policy Director Matt Pacenza. This is because in the state of Utah, vehicles produce roughly 57 percent of total air pollution.

Pacenza notes that the 70 to 80 percent reduction in emissions is a couple of decades off and that in that timeframe the amount of vehicles on the road will only increase.

Although the Tier III standards would have a great effect on the Salt Lake, Provo and Ogden areas, the overall air quality of Summit County is quite good according to Bob Swensen, Environmental Health Director at the Summit County Health Department.

However, because Summit County is currently an EPA 'attainment area,' or an area whose pollutant levels are below National Ambient Air Quality Standards, it cannot set up an emissions testing program.

Instead, the county has been monitoring PM2.5 levels over the past four years. PM2.5 is fine particulate matter that is an air pollutant and can cause breathing problems. The county is soon going to expand its air monitoring with an ozone program, with testing scheduled to begin in two to three weeks, according to Swensen.

Tier III regulations would help cut back on the rise in pollutants that occurs here in the wintertime due to inversions in Salt Lake County.

Thomas hopes that although Utah is a conservative state and generally opposed to new regulations, the issue of air quality will be one that strikes a chord with politicians and citizens.

"Although we're a red state we don't want to be a red air state," Thomas said.

The EPA's open comment deadline for the Tier III standards proposal is July 1. For more information on Tier III, visit www.epa.gov. To learn more about HEAL Utah's efforts, visit www.healutah.org.