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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City and Provo metropolitan area is nearing federal Clean Air Act compliance for wintertime particulate matter pollution for the first time in a little more than a decade, according to an update from federal officials.
The Environmental Protection Agency posted an update Monday calling for Wasatch Front areas to be moved to be considered in attainment of the Clean Air Act standards for PM 2.5 emissions that were set in 2006. Utah Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Jared Mendenhall said if everything goes as planned, the area might regain attainment status by the end of the year for the first time since Nov. 13, 2009.
"This is the first step in bringing those two areas into a new status, which is attainment or maintenance to the Clean Air Act," he told KSL.com on Wednesday, noting that the area had enough air quality conditions to satisfy the standards set up by the EPA. Utah’s environmental agency reports that they’ve had PM 2.5 levels below the standard over the last three years, which has prompted the federal agency to change the status of the area.
The EPA’s proposal for change will require a public comment period that’s expected to wrap up on July 8, where people can weigh in on the decision to move the area to attainment status. If it goes through, the state will draft a plan to show how it will maintain pollution levels below the Clean Air Act standard.
Most of the state’s plan will likely seek to continue efforts that were created from its plan to reach attainment status since that was able to help significantly reduce emissions, Mendenhall explained. It’s a plan that would be in place through 2035, so it would have to adjust to pollution concerns that can be attributed to anticipated population growth. That will also have a public comment period before it’s approved. The entire process is expected to unfold over the next six months, according to Mendenhall.
The EPA’s announcement is an encouraging development for an area that’s been blasted for having poor air quality. The Wasatch Front has long been plagued with high pollution levels that get caught underneath winter inversions. In April, the American Lung Association rated the Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem metropolitan area as being the seventh-most at-risk area for short-term air pollution from 2016 through 2018.
But no Utah city cracked the bottom 25 for annual PM 2.5 counts on that list. The EPA report released Monday cited 2017-2019 data in the EPA's Air Quality System that the areas had reached levels below the requirement.
People can submit their comments to the EPA through the government’s website.
Mendenhall said the latest update is an achievement that can be credited to efforts from state to local leaders, businesses and residents alike to curb pollution, especially during the state’s winter inversion season. He added that it’s not the end of those efforts.
"Residents (and) lawmakers have all taken air quality seriously and what we’ve seen in the last 10 years is that emissions per capita have gone down in the state," he said. "And we’ve continued to work to improve air quality. … What the EPA has said here is we’re doing a good job, we’re taking it seriously and we’re getting to a point where we’re starting to come in compliance with the Clean Air Act."