SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said he hopes the federal government's adoption of cleaner fuel and vehicle standards Monday will help accelerate Utah's transition to the tighter regulations so air pollution is reduced.
Herbert is among those proponents of the tougher standards adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency because of the immediate impacts they will have on Utah's pollution problems.
"I emphasized in the State of the State address that the transition to cleaner Tier 3 gasoline and the next generation of lower emission vehicles is significant in our ability to improve Utah’s air quality," the governor said Monday.
"As the technology already exists to do something about it, there is absolutely no reason to wait. Expediting this transition will be one of the most significant and effective ways we can immediately take to clean our air," he said.
Herbert, who came out in support of the so-called Tier 3 standards last summer, said it should be a top priority for the state to foster encouragement of the cleaner burning fuel in vehicles immediately.
Ultimately, the cleaner fuel and requirements for better pollution-reducing technology in cars will cut harmful tailpipe emissions linked to strokes, heart attacks, respiratory disease and even the early onset of Alzheimer's in women.
"These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment, and a win for our pocketbooks," said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. "By working with the auto industry, health groups and other stakeholders, we're continuing to build on the Obama administration's broader clean fuels and vehicles efforts that cut carbon pollution, clean the air we breathe, and save families money at the pump."
The fuel standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent — down from 30 to 10 parts per million in 2017. The EPA said by reducing sulfur in gasoline, emission control technologies perform more efficiently, curtailing pollutants that obscure the skies and clog the lungs.
Transition to the new low-sulfur gas, according to the EPA, will provide significant and immediate health benefits because every gas-powered vehicle on the road built prior to the standards will run cleaner, with smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions reduced by 260,000 tons in 2018. The EPA estimates the cleaner fuel will cost less than a penny per gallon.
Once fully in place, the standards will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths per year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, according to the EPA.
The endorsement by Herbert and the Utah Air Quality Board puts Utah in company with several states that have urged adoption of the standards, as well as major automobile manufacturers who say a single, national standard works best from a competitive level. California has already had the standard in place for several years, as well as Europe, Japan and Korea.
In addition to Utah, top policymakers in Washington state, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia support the EPA move to the new standards.
Clean air advocates, environmental groups and other organizations lauded the move.
“Tier 3 could be the single biggest step northern Utah can take to reduce the air pollution that threatens our families, communities and economy,” said HEAL Utah Executive Director Christopher Thomas.
Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said the standards will ultimately make communities safer for everyone.
"Cars, light trucks and SUVs are major sources of pollution that can harm the health of our most vulnerable family members and neighbors, including those who suffer from asthma, lung and heart disease, as well as those who live, work and go to school near major roadways,” Wimmer said.
Thomas, however, cautioned that the cleaner fuel may not be a benefit fully realized in Utah unless pressure is brought to bear on local refineries, which are given an extended time frame for implementation and allowed to "average" current fuel against new standards.
A resolution urging the air quality board and the state environmental quality department to help facilitate the move to Tier 3 standards was debated in a legislative committee Monday afternoon and passed unanimously.
Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, cautioned lawmakers on the implementation hurdles for the cleaner fuel, but said the association would work collaboratively with the state.
"I am not speaking against the resolution. Tier 3 is here, and we intend to comply," Peacock said.