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Water Heaters: Another Air Pollution Solution

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Heating water with natural gas will produce less pollution under a new regulation passed Wednesday by the Utah Air Quality Board.

Emissions from cars and industry are usually what Utahns talk about when they debate how to cut pollution. But the category called “area sources” that includes homes and business buildings is expected to become the state’s biggest pollution source in a few years.

That’s why state policy-makers advanced new regulations on gas-fueled water heaters this week to help clean up Utah’s air.

“Roughly a third of northern Utah’s pollution comes from buildings,” says Matt Pacenza, director of the environmental group HEAL Utah. “But modeling from some of the planning groups suggests it’ll be up to half or more within a few decades.”

Regulators won’t be going building-to-building to remove water heaters already in use. But, beginning in November of 2017, only “ultra-low-NOX” models will be sold in Utah. The move is expected to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from water heaters by around 70 percent a year, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Reductions like that are considered crucial to ease winter smog – especially as Utah’s population grows.

Pacenza says federal clean-car, clean fuel regulations are on track to cut vehicle pollution, and now it makes sense to make buildings cleaner, too.

“It’s kind of the perfect air-quality solution in that it’s cheap, it’s invisible and it will make a fairly significant difference,” he says.

The new water-heater rule is part of a suite of regulations the Utah Air Quality Board has been implementing over the past few years – not just to help meet federal standards, but also to improve quality of life.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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