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Utah must begin an aggressive program to reduce air pollution; that's the gist of a letter sent to Gov. Jon Huntsman from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has its' radar on seven counties in the northern part of the state.
A couple years ago, the federal government tightened standards on fine-particle pollution. Today's letter to the governor identifies the trouble spots and puts a timetable on Utah to clean up its' act.
"The standards keep getting tighter. We find out more about pollution, so we need to do more," explained Cheryl Heying, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality.
The EPA says there's too much fine-particle pollution in Salt Lake and Davis counties and in parts of Weber, Utah and Cache counties.
Utah's air quality experts say Box Elder and Tooele counties meet the tough federal guidelines, but the EPA disagrees based on one factor. "They just say there's pollution coming from those valleys into Salt Lake," Heying said.
Huntsman explains it this way: "You have natural inversions that kind of conspire against us."
Inversions or not, the EPA told Utah's governor the state has three years to come up with a plan, and another two years to bring those flagged counties into compliance, or the federal government could deny Utah a portion of federal highway money.
Huntsman says we can expect yearly emissions checks to expand to counties the EPA is monitoring. Also, Utah is already retrofitting old school buses that spew pollution. "We're putting on pollution-control devices on the engines to remove the particulates," Heying explained.
She added, "It's not about bargaining and dickering with the EPA, it's about figuring out how we can clean up our act."
The EPA actually contacted 25 governors across the country. This is a nationwide action, and more than 200 counties across the United States are not in federal compliance and the clock is ticking to clean up the air.