SALT LAKE CITY — A technical team of nearly 40 members is probing the best science-based solutions for cutting Utah's air pollution so those recommendations can be delivered to Utah lawmakers in mid-December.
The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah was tasked by the Utah Legislature to look at the problem for a roadmap of possible legislative solutions for the next several years.
Natalie Gochnour, institute director and associate dean in the university's David Eccles School of Business, met Monday with the Deseret News editorial board to explain the process and the timeline in play for coming up with ways to address pollution problems and the challenge of a changing climate.
The technical team's research will build on a large volume of work already done in 2007 under then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
"We have an advantage because air quality is present, it is understood and it is an urgent problem," she said.
Technical team members come from a wide variety of disciplines, including state agencies, universities, the utility sector, clean energy organizations, hospitals and the transportation sector.
"Our role is to be objective and nonpartisan," Gochnour said.
The group is using HCR 7, passed in the 2018, as its blueprint.
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Ogden and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, recognizes that "stewardship includes fostering and maintaining resilient ecosystems that have the capacity to adapt to our changing environment."
It also calls on emission reductions through incentives and support for growth technologies and services that will enlarge Utah's economy in an energy-efficient and cost-effective way.
The recommendations could serve as a "climate action," plan of sorts that 20 other states have adopted across the country.
"The most important thing we can do is provide the Legislature with information they can trust and information that is verified," said Tom Holst, senior energy analyst with the institute.
Gochnour said the goal is to come up with recommendations that could deliver a certain percentage in emissions reduction by a particular year.
Because the research is in its infancy, Gochnour said those numbers have not yet been defined.
Although the study effort will include a review of best practices in other states in the pollution reduction arena, consultant Brian Wilkinson said that local science-based approaches will be critical.
"They're going to be looking at what can the Utah Legislature can focus on that will work for Utah," he said.
The study is being funded by a $200,000 appropriation from lawmakers but Gochnour said additional money is also being sought.
A draft of the recommendations will be released in November for public comment, with the final version due Dec. 13.
Gochnour said the greatest challenge is the abbreviated timeframe the team has to follow.
Experts are grappling with tamping emissions further due to the ongoing health impacts, Utah's efforts to land the 2030 Olympics and a strong chorus from the tech sector that more action on air quality and a changing climate is essential for greater recruitment success, Gochnour added.
Across the Wasatch Front, emissions are down. From 2002 to 2017, state statistics show per capita emissions declined by 49%, despite spiraing population growth.
Pollution continues to plague the Wasatch Front, however.
The 2019 emissions inventory shows mobile sources, or tailpipes, as the primary culprit for PM2.5, contributing 42%, followed by area sources such as small businesses and homes at 29%, point sources or larger industry at 17% and nonroad, such as construction, at 12%.