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Health, Science & Environment

EPA Mulls 'Serious' Label For Utah's Winter Air

inversion over salt lake valley.
KUER News
Whether or not the EPA designates northern Utah as a "serious" nonattainment area for episodes of PM 2.5 pollution, Utah is required to meet clean air standards by the end of 2019.

Pollution levels in the final days of 2015 could sway federal regulators who are thinking about a pollution crackdown in northern Utah, while environmental groups say the cleanup should be tougher and faster.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set deadline after deadline for states to detail their plans for cleaning up fine-particle pollution. But Utah’s struggled to prove it’s on track to end winter smog episodes. So, the EPA is proposing to call the problem “serious.”

The state’s not fighting the label, but regulators want what they calls a realistic timetable to deliver a workable plan.

“It does trigger another planning process,” says Bryce Bird, director of Utah’s Air Quality Division. “We’ll involve stakeholders in identifying strategies, but we have always been focused on that 2019 deadline to show attainment with the standard.”

Regardless what the EPA decides over the next six months about a “serious” designation, Utah has just four years to meet federal clean air standards. Still, environmentalists contend the problems are serious, and they want the cleanup plan due in mid-2017 rather than December 2018, as the EPA proposes.

“Our citizens are continually exposed to these incredibly unhealthy episodes,” says Joro Walker, an attorney for Western Resource Advocates. “We’re running out of time. We need to do more. We’re in Phase 2, which is the ‘serious’ phase, which requires us to do more.”

Environmentalists say the sooner that cleanup plan is done, the likelier it is that northern Utah’s air complies with EPA’s PM 2.5 standard on time and that residents are finally breathing clean winter air.

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