This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There may be no better example of political tone-deafness than Utah legislators standing against the idea of incentivizing clean air.
As we brace for yet another winter of respiratory discontent, we also confront the prospect that at least a couple of our state legislators chosen by our fellow Utahns along the Wasatch Front would prefer to see the pollution continue than risk a further plunge into the unholy depths of government intervention.
At issue is the Environmental Protection Agency's "Tier 3" motor fuel standards. Tier 3 requires a reduction of sulfur in motor fuels, which in turn reduces the amount of nitrogen oxides given off when the fuel is burned in cars and trucks. Those nitrogen oxides are precursors for the development of PM2.5, the fine particulates that are literally killing Utahns. Just switching to Tier 3 would reduce vehicle emissions by 7 to 11 percent.
Switching requires investments in refineries, whose products produce more than half the air pollution in the valley. (Yes, they have co-conspirators in all of us who drive.)
It's not a matter of if, but when, Tier 3 standards are met. And, despite the rhetoric about over-regulation, the refiners need only hit the 2020 sulfur standards on average across all their refineries. In other words, the refiners could update other refineries and meet the standard without touching the gasoline produced and consumed by Utahns.
Gov. Gary Herbert's administration recognizes that, and it wants to incentivize oil companies to update our refineries first. When the Utah Division of Air Quality proposed it to a legislative interim committee Thursday, Sen. Scott Jenkins and Rep. Ken Ivory raised the notion that it could be government meddling in the gasoline business.
But DAQ is only talking about offering incentives, not regulations, to refiners who are already looking at meeting the standards. One refiner, HollyFrontier, has already lowered its sulfur content, although a HollyFrontier executive resisted further reductions. "You would notice no difference in the quality of the air, and yet it would be a multimillion-dollar investment," he said.
In fact, it would improve the air quality by removing tons of pollutants, and it's a multimillion investment for a company that just last year announced a $625 million expansion at its Woods Cross refinery so it can process more black wax crude from the Uinta Basin. EPA estimates Tier 3's cost at one penny per gallon produced, and no doubt the refiners will pass that cost on to its consumers. This is affordable and the right thing to do.
Please, legislators, don't make the mothers of Utah parade their asthmatic children in front of you to remind you to find practical solutions.