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Published April 30, 2012 5:25 pm

Air quality is everyone's business
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It was not a single thing that caused the air hanging over Utah's valleys to become hazardous to our health. And it won't be a single thing that will fix the problem.

While there are no shortage of things to point fingers at — mines, refineries, cars (in motion and idling), homes and even bakeries — the solution to our collective problem will not be found by ganging up on any one sector and giving everyone else a pass.

And it won't be solved by any interest group protesting that it should not be expected to change its ways because, all by itself, it won't be enough to solve the problem.

This is the issue, and the realization, that faces the Utah Division of Air Quality as it gathers suggestions from all comers on how it might have a hope of meeting a federal deadline for creating a plan to cut down on a specific form of air pollution.

It's called PM2.5, and Utah is one of 32 areas across the nation that has too much of it in our air to meet federal standards. The PM stands for "particulate matter" and is often, and somewhat imprecisely, described as "soot."

It is that, as well as dust, dirt, smoke, even some kinds of liquid droplets, some of them microscopic in size, that hang in the air, bake in the sun, aggregate into larger particles and generally mess up the lungs of the young and the old. It is a serious enough threat to public health that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has, and can be expected to use, the power to take both federal highway money and the ability to make Clean Air Act permitting decisions away from the state if Utah does not get its environmental house in order. It must have a plan in hand by the end of this year, with a compliance deadline of 2014, which may fall to 2019.

Complaining won't help. Making cracks about federal overreach or states' rights cannot solve the problem. And the best way to avoid greater federal power over what have been state decisions would be to establish that Utah and its many local governments are, indeed, as capable of protecting our own air quality as any federal agency would be.

Something else that won't help will be a snipe hunt for a single action that will bring Utah air quality into compliance. There are so many different sources of PM2.5 emissions that each of them will have to be addressed.

Everything from tougher emissions standards for autos and trucks to new-style household appliances to more stringent regulations for industrial sources such as Kennecott Copper and local oil refineries.

The objection that such standards will kill jobs and hurt the economy is weak, indeed, because nothing is more harmful to any region's economy than air you can't breathe.




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