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Health, Science & Environment

Bill Would Give Uinta Basin Flexibility On Ozone Pollution Enforcement

U.S. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo. argues that putting states in charge of managing resources will remove excess red tape and make it easier for companies to drill responsibly on federal lands.
The idea behind a bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is to give states and counties more flexibility so they don't face sanctions for high pollution levels, including winter ozone in Uintah County, Utah.

Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee says oil and gas companies would be doing a lot more to clean up pollution if they knew they could avoid sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“If you go into nonattainment, is the federal government just going to say, ‘Well, you’re above the threshold, we do not allow any new wells to be drilled?’“

McKee is backing Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s bill to authorize a program that gives states and communities more time and flexibility in meeting air-pollution limits for high ozone the basin’s energy fields.

“It would be nice,” he says, “if we could get programs in place so that we clean up our air at the same time we don’t shut down industry.”

Fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee is one of four cosponsors of the bipartisan bill.

But time’s running out on the congressional clock, and the bill has been idle since Hatch introduced it a year ago.

Critics like Robin Cooley would be happy to see the effort die. A lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, she says the EPA should protect Uinta Basin residents from breathing air that’s heavily polluted with ozone.

“This bill is really nothing more than a delay tactic to avoid the real, enforceable plan to clean up emissions from fracking in the Uinta Basin that would come with a nonattainment designation,” says Cooley.

State regulators are in the early stages of planning how to handle high ozone pollution on the Wasatch Front and in the Uinta Basin. Last year the EPA tightened the health-based limits on ozone from 75 parts per billion to 70.

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