This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The year 2016 has been another bad one for air quality in northern Utah, with pollution levels again reaching hazardous levels. Some blame "the weather" — the inversion trapping our air pollution. But it's not the weather that keeps our children off the playgrounds or causes strokes, heart attacks, increased emergency room visits, more hospitalizations and premature death. It's the air pollution emitted by our businesses, transportation and industry that is creating the problem.

The good news is that there are actions we can take so that even during winter inversions our children and families can breathe cleaner air, our businesses can thrive and our economy can grow. We need these actions sooner rather than later.

The bad news is that the regulators charged with taking actions to protect us are not acting quickly to help us all. Specifically, we're talking about the Utah Air Quality Board and the Utah Division of Air Quality.

One such opportunity for action and public participation was on March 2, when the Utah Air Quality Board denied a request to release for public comment three proposed rules to reduce air pollution. HEAL Utah, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Western Resource Advocates hired an air quality expert to help craft these new rules that would have strengthened oversight and reduced air pollution from Utah's largest industries.

In essence, the board decided it wasn't necessary to get feedback from the public, air quality experts or industry on whether these rules made sense for further consideration and implementation. They simply took it upon themselves to stop the conversation before any such feedback or discussion could occur.

The three common-sense rules that would have helped enforce clean air laws and improve our air quality were:

1) Prevent bad air days. This proposed rule would have imposed 24-hour emissions limits on our biggest polluters to prevent short-term spikes in emissions. Utah's air regularly exceeds daily pollution safeguards — which is why the Environmental Protection Agency recommends 24-hour limits. This was voted down 4 to 4, with the executive director of the department breaking the tie to deny public debate on the rule.

2) Require regular monitoring by big polluters. The second rule would have mandated continuous emission monitoring and annual stack testing, so that state officials and the public can have greater confidence that industry is not polluting more than it is allowed. Currently such tests are required for many of our largest industrial polluters only once every three to five years. This was voted down for consideration 6 to 2.

3) Ensure substantial new industry pollution increases are offset: The third rule would have lowered the threshold at which emission increases must be offset by emission decreases to ensure the overall pollution in the airshed doesn't increase. This was voted down for consideration 8 to 0.

Utah's air pollution is literally a health crisis. The data clearly show that hospital visits spike dramatically during our inversions. Additionally, it's estimated that Utah loses between 1,000 to 2,000 people per year from premature death, caused by our pollution. That is simply unacceptable.

Air pollution is preventable. We have the technologies that allow our businesses to thrive while polluting less. The public demands significant, speedy and meaningful action to improve air quality. Clean air experts, advocates and the public deserve a greater role in coming up with solutions to our air pollution. Considering these three rules would have allowed robust public debate on the merits of these rules - an excellent step toward getting increased solutions implemented that clean our air sooner rather than later. Forty-four community and religious leaders — including eight city and county council members — signed onto a letter that called for consideration of these rules. Members of the public signed thousands of post cards urging the board to open the proposed rules to stakeholder comment. But despite the serious situation, the merits of the rules, and broad public support, the board voted "no."

The board voted "no" at the urging of state regulators at the Division of Air Quality who argued that to even consider the proposed rules would be "burdensome" and require "months" of work for them. When it comes to preventing life-altering impairment to our health and premature death from bad air quality, 'too much work' is not an acceptable excuse. The state needs to dedicate adequate resources and time to involving the public in its planning and improving our air quality as quickly as possible.

We urge Governor Herbert, the Air Quality Board and the Division of Air Quality to open its processes to the public and take action to clean our air now.

Joro Walker is a senior staff attorney with Western Resource Advocates and the Utah Office director. Tim Wagner is executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.