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With Utah's inversion season on the horizon, a group of local environmentalists will appear before the Utah Air Quality Board on Wednesday to present a series of rules they drafted to fill gaps they see in the state's plan to reduce air pollution.
Two of the proposed rules call for stricter caps on emissions from industry and businesses, a third calls for increased industrial emissions monitoring and a fourth would increase the time the public can give input during the Utah Division of Air Quality's permitting process.
Joro Walker, director of the Utah Office of Western Resource Advocates and one of the collaborators on the proposed rules, said the proposals were inspired by how public comments were addressed or not addressed during the air quality board's process of approving the state implementation plan (SIP) for harmful PM 2.5 pollution. Various environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency repeated concerns about shortfalls in the SIP, Walker said, but the final SIP was presented to the state air quality board as a single take-it-or-leave-it package.
The advantage of proposing these four rules individually, she said, is that they can be discussed and evaluated on their own merits, allowing the board and the public to pick and choose which, if any, it would like to see on the books.
"Given that vehicle, we took what we considered to be some of the most important changes and amendments we could make to the SIP, and we focused on those areas," Walker said. "Each one is designed to reduce emissions and increase public confidence."
Whether the Utah Air Quality Board adopts the rules or not, they'll have big implications for Utah environmentalists, said Kerry Kelly, a member of the board and an assistant professor of chemical engineer at the University of Utah.
This isn't the first time the board has heard citizen-drafted rules, she said, and in the past, the board's vote to consider new rules has raised the profile of the issue at hand among Utah residents.
A recent example: last winter's debate over the wood-burning ban, which was initiated by a request for rule-making from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
The first of this round of rules takes aim at industrial emissions. One proposes a 24-hour limit on PM 2.5 emissions from point sources like factories. Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, another contributor to the rules project, said the SIP lacked short-term emissions caps a significant oversight, he said, given that Utah doesn't have a year-round emissions problem.
A second similar rule is more technical. It asks the air quality board to set lower offset standards for PM 2.5 emissions. Offset standards determine the point at which the state must reduce emissions from old sources before new sources of pollution are allowed to begin operations.
The last two rules look to improve public confidence and participation. One would require continuous monitoring of certain large industrial sites, and another would extend the standard public comment period for permitting actions, requiring the state to start the comment clock when permit documents are available for inspection, rather than the moment the state first advertises the action.
"It wouldn't drag things out for months and months; it would just add a few more weeks," Pacenza said.
After the rules' initial presentation, which is scheduled to take place during an air quality board meeting beginning at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the board will decide whether it will consider the rules formally.
Kelly said the proposed rules seemed to be based on good ideas, but that the board would need some time to look at the rules' exact language before deciding whether to present them for public comment.