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Cache County pushing back on emissions testing

Published October 16, 2012 7:31 am

Communities weigh in on plans to clean up the air.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • County officials, chafing at the notion local cars and trucks must submit to emissions testing, say they have a better plan than the state's to clean up winter pollution spikes, and they're willing to fight the state and maybe even the federal government for the chance to try it.

"It needs to be challenged," said County Executive Lynn Lemon, talking about certain requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup plans.

The comment came at a workshop meeting Monday with state regulators from the Utah Division of Air Quality, following a public hearing on the statewide plan to reduce PM 2.5 emissions and Cache County's part in it. Bryce Bird, director of the air-quality division, welcomed the input on how to cut winter pollution even after more than a year of often-contentious talks with the county.

"We're in the public comment process right now," he said, "so this is the perfect time to have these discussions."

Bird's team began two hours of public interaction here with a 15-minute video describing the state's PM 2.5 problem, an exasperating and unhealthy mix of fine soot, weather and the basin landscapes that make Utah a pollution hotspot for days and sometimes weeks at a time in winter.

A similar schedule is envisioned for Orem on Tuesday, with a focus on Utah County's pollution solutions, and twice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

But dealing with PM 2.5 is not expected to be easy in any of these places — and it might not be possible despite the best efforts of the air-quality experts that have worked for around three years to craft final, workable plans in time for EPA's mid-December deadline. Even with proposed cuts to industrial emissions, stepped-up transit, a new emissions-testing program in Cache County and stricter controls on the vapors from paint shops, large bakeries and coating companies, the plans covering much of the pollution-affected areas fall short of EPA's health-based requirements.

State planners are finding resistance to some of solutions they've devised. But they are pushing forward because they have only weeks to submit a plan EPA is likely to approve.

In Cache County, cleaning up around 476 tons of key pollutants a year would cost about $1.2 million. Add in the emissions program and another 167 tons would be eliminated at a cost of $1.5 million.

Roy Munger, a member of the stakeholder team that worked on the pollution-reduction plan for Cache County, called emissions testing "a democratic way of spreading the burden.… These regulations are really a compromise."

But others call it an expensive and intrusive answer to a problem that is really only a problem for 10 to 20 days a year, when inversions settle into the valley and seal in pollution.

"What burns me is we'd be in compliance [with the federal pollution law] if it wasn't for inversion days," said resident Keith Thompson.

Cache County agreed with that sentiment and this summer it rejected the state's request to implement a law requiring emissions tests, which are designed to clean up the dirtiest cars and trucks. Lemon was the first to testify Monday, and he put regulators on notice that the state can't force its plan on the county.

Instead the county wants to try its own program: stickers on cars with certified low emissions, those only a few years old or that have passed the sort of clean-emissions tests that have been required on the Wasatch Front for around 30 years. People driving un-stickered vehicles on red or yellow days could face fines — as low as $50 or as high as $500 for a violation.

Regulators doubted EPA's willingness to approve an idea like that without a track record or some other proof that it would be effective.

Rep. Rhonda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, testified that she was concerned about any impacts to agriculture from the new rules and that regulators had reassured her farmers and ranchers would not be affected. Of state regulators, she said: "They have the hammer of EPA."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah