SALT LAKE CITY — A plan seven years in the making to improve the state's air quality received unanimous approval from the Utah Air Quality Board on Wednesday.
The state implementation plan brings Utah in line with federal regulations for fine particle pollution. The plan ultimately will go to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for review.
"This is just the thing that ties all that research and all of these control requirements to one package that we send to the EPA," said Dave McNeill, branch manager for the Utah Division of Air Quality.
McNeill said the approved plan takes credit for many rules the board has already implemented in the past year, such as controlling vapor degreasing, commercial products and consumer products.
"It takes credit for those things, but the big thing with this is it sets emission limits for the big industrial sources," he said.
McNeill signed the plan Wednesday and said it will be sent to the governor's office within the week.
After Utah missed a December 2012 deadline, the EPA proposed a new deadline of Dec. 17, 2014, McNeill said. He said the EPA is pleased with the progress the board has made, despite the fact the plan does not meet the newly proposed requirements for December 2014.
"We made a commitment to work with them and get this thing ready for that," McNeill said. "We'll have to make a revision, but the EPA right now is very pleased with what we've done. Even though it's not where it needs to be, they're very pleased that we're way ahead of where we were."
Several people at the meeting requested that the board move forward more quickly, saying they want a tougher plan to improve the air quality.
"Waiting six more years is unacceptable," Joro Walker, senior attorney and Utah office director for the Western Resource Advocates, said on behalf of multiple groups. "We need (state implementation plans) that do more to clean our air and do it more quickly. We disagree with the suggestion made that these (plans) are in the ballpark of what we need."
Walker said the plan needs the continued attention of the board and the Division of Air Quality. She addressed multiple issues with the plan, including deadlines, models underestimating the seriousness of the air quality problem, and lack of time for the board to critique the plan thoroughly.
The public also hasn't had adequate time to respond to the division's answers to their questions and comments, she said.
Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said delaying compliance means "condemning tens and thousands of our children to poorer health for the rest of their lives."
Moench said medical research in the past 10 years shows the effects of air pollution on infants, children and developing embryos.
This has to be designed, and the whole refining process has to be redesigned to fit around this equipment. People just don't understand that.
–Dave McNeill, Utah Division of Air Quality
He said research suggests that air pollution causes women to have pregnancy complications, and even a brief period of exposure during critical developmental stages of an embryo can cause a person to have an increased risk of heart, lung, immune system and brain complications.
"Those kinds of considerations should be taken into account in a state developing a compliant strategy," Moench said. "Because of all these considerations, hundreds of thousands if not up to a half a million children will pass through a critical stage of development that they will never have an opportunity to pass through again."
McNeill said those urging the board to take action this year, rather than implementing the plan through 2019, don't understand what that would entail.
For example, all refineries will be required to get rid of their flares, he said.
"That’s requiring them to do a lot of redesign of their refineries," McNeill said. "Then they have to order their equipment, and it can take two or three years to get all that done."
When Kennecott Utah Copper made the same changes, it was about a five-year process, he said.
"This is a major thing," McNeill said. "It's not like you can walk into a 7-Eleven and pull something off a shelf. This has to be designed, and the whole refining process has to be redesigned to fit around this equipment. People just don't understand that."