As Utah struggles to devise a federally acceptable air pollution reduction plan, or SIP, evidence suggests the state is coddling big polluters in many ways.
The Utah Division of Air Quality entered into the SIP process with the preconception that it not only would not require sacrifices from big industry such as no updated pollution-control technology but it would sanction greater emissions by allowing their expansion. Utah's SIP even blatantly authorizes an increase from industrial sources for six years.
In stark contrast, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prioritizes control of industrial emissions because the agency has found that voluntary driving-reduction strategies Gov. Gary Herbert's primary focus have been shown to yield only 2-3 percent reductions. The state is counting on the gradual purchase of newer cars eventually solving much of our problem.
The primary benefit from increasingly efficient engines is reduction of nitrogen oxides. DAQ argues that NOx reductions are less import now because the main culprit is volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from many smaller businesses and consumer products. But NOx also happens to be a primary emission from Rio Tinto Kennecott and the oil refineries. This contradiction conveniently shields big industrial polluters from responsibility.
Flares, breakdowns, fugitive emissions from the oil refineries and diesel pollution from more trucks delivering crude oil are not counted in DAQ's official statistics. EPA documents and the Associated Press indicate these uncounted emissions likely dwarf "official" refinery releases. In the case of Kennecott, dust from 9,000 acres of tailings piles are not counted, nor are the diesel emissions from their heavy equipment.
Recall as well that EPA ranks Salt Lake County the second most toxic county in the nation, and Forbes magazine ranked Salt Lake City as the ninth most toxic city in the nation, primarily because of heavy metals in Kennecott pollution. DAQ employees wishing to remain anonymous have made comments to us like, "Sometimes it seems like we work for Kennecott."
Our team of experts has identified countless errors and illegalities in the permits. The state recommended approval for Holly Refining to double capacity by dismantling an old, dormant New Mexico refinery and reassembling it in Salt Lake. The governor's spokesperson parroted Holly's claim that new technology allows the refineries to "expand production while at the same time reducing overall pollution."
One minor problem that magical new technology isn't in the permits. One of our refinery experts discovered that the bulk of the claimed emission reductions was for the removal of a unit that didn't even create the emissions.
EPA weighed in on the Holly permit and agreed with us on what was legal and what was not. The refineries can expand and pollute less per unit of refined product, but it is patently false to claim that the two planned refinery expansions, Tesoro and Holly, will be polluting less overall if the expansions are allowed. Incidentally, local refinery expansions will not increase local supplies or decrease local gas prices. The gasoline will be sent to Las Vegas and California, the profits will go to Texas and the pollution will stay in Utah.
The state's big industry bias is also evident in the most recent document from the governor entitled "What the State is Doing for Air Quality." It highlights what Kennecott did back in 1995, but says nothing about the state issuing RTK a permit to expand twice since then, the most recent of which will increase facility-wide NOx emissions by 54 percent and particulate pollution by 66 percent.
The state claims it must allow the big polluters to expand if their permits satisfy the law. However, as part of the state reduction plan process, the state has wide latitude to mandate more industrial pollution controls, but simply refuses to do so. Instead, the state stacks the legal deck heavily in industry's favor; from an Air Quality Board dominated by industry and its sympathizers, to the state waiting four months before even beginning to process our appeal of the Tesoro permit, while concurrently allowing Tesoro to proceed with construction.
The governor is correct that reducing air pollution requires a partnership between citizens, industry and the government. But there is a disturbing, unequivocal truth being hidden by the state. The big polluters are allowed to pollute more, while citizens are all asked to pollute less. What's wrong with this picture? Look outside and you have your answer.
Austin Egan is an attorney representing Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.