This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A clean-air group based in Denver pointed out a major crack through which some pollution permit-holders could purposely be falling. The rule recognizes that companies can experience unexpected malfunctions of machinery or human-caused errors that could hamper pollution-control operations temporarily.

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action says some companies have pushed the limits set by the rule in order to exceed pollution limits without penalty. The group has sent a petition to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, asking that the EPA put its foot down and demand that Utah regulators close the loophole.

There's really nothing to debate here.

Utah's rule governing "unavoidable breakdowns" that could result in a refinery, power plant, cement producer or other regulated polluter emitting more gunk than allowed by law is quite clear in its intent.

It states that these "unavoidable" malfunctions for which an exemption in pollution limits is allowed are just that - unavoidable - and warns that breakdowns "caused entirely or in part by poor maintenance, careless operation or any other preventable upset condition or preventable equipment breakdown shall not be considered [an] unavoidable breakdown."

The state estimates that between 20 and 40 of these breakdowns have been reported during each of the past two years - more, it seems to us, than could reasonably be considered unavoidable.

The EPA has repeatedly told the Utah Division of Air Quality that the rule is illegal under the federal Clean Air Act. The agency has ordered the DAQ to eliminate the exemption altogether or revise it to seal the crack. DAQ officials counter that the EPA rejected its proposed change several years ago.

In the meantime, the breakdowns continue and companies are allowed, largely with impunity, to spew even more pollutants into the already dangerously polluted air along the Wasatch Front.

The EPA and the state should demand that companies do whatever it takes to keep pollution within limits and to levy consistent fines when they don't. With Salt Lake Valley air getting dirtier every year, we don't have time for governmental squabbling.

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