Tracking pollution
Permits more than just paperwork
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two levels of environmental bureaucracy are hastening to assure us that there is nothing worrisome about the fact that Utah's largest polluters are 20 years late in filing some important paperwork. And, as far as the practical impact of the amount of pollution spewing from those refineries and industrial facilities, they may actually be right.

But most people will have no way of knowing if the missing permits actually made a difference in the quality of the air we all breathe until the permits get filed. It is kind of like losing your glasses, and being unable to look for them until they've been found.

Spokesmen for both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Utah Division of Air Quality suggest that compliance may still be a long time coming. The two agencies have apparently been at odds since 1994 over just what those permits should say.

The multilevel turf war has both sides agreeing that the fact that five petroleum refineries along the Salt Lake and Davis county line have not filed what federal law calls a Title V permit isn't all that important, as all Title V does is summarize size and limits of pollution caused and prevented by permits in Titles I through IV. Because those rules are being obeyed, say both agencies, Title V is a mere formality.

Maybe. But Congress didn't seem to think so when it required the process way back in 1990.

In a valley that suffers from as much air pollution as ours does, at a time when industry, state regulators and environmental activists all have a different take on where most of our pollution comes from and what can be done about it, the failure of those responsible to fill in all the blanks in the Title V forms is something that ought not be so easily dismissed.

Word that one of the big local refiners, Tesoro, has just been hit with a $1.1 million fine for faulty air quality monitoring only makes a stronger argument for such policing.

The quality of our air is so bad on so many days, endangering our health, diminishing our quality of life, even undermining the economic potential of our communities, that we must not miss any opportunity to chart, understand, forecast and limit the amount of pollutants poured into our lungs from any and all sources.

This is particularly true when the state claims that limits on refineries and other industrial polluters have gone about as far as they can go, while independent experts question that and decry a state government that shifts the blame to individuals.

Utah, and its industries, should comply with Title V. Now.