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Study of bromine’s relationship to Utah’s bad air clears Senate committee

The pollution trapped by an inversion overlooking the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City from Capitol Hill, Feb. 3, 2023.
Brian Albers
The pollution trapped by an inversion overlooking the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City from Capitol Hill, Feb. 3, 2023.

A bill addressing Utah’s infamous pollution-filled inversions cleared another hurdle toward becoming law after passing unanimously out of a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Andrew Stoddard’s “Emissions Reduction Amendments” bill gained more support after Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, signed on as a co-sponsor. The bill would conduct an in-depth study of bromine emissions in the Salt Lake Valley.

“What the bill does is it tries to pin down who exactly is responsible for emitting these bromine chemicals and allows the [Utah Division of Air Quality] to be able to put in some goals in terms of reduction of them,” Stoddard said in a Feb. 28 committee hearing.

A January study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found U.S. Magnesium could be responsible for up to 25% of the pollution that contributes to winter smog along the Wasatch Front.

Stoddard originally introduced his bill as a “wishlist” to cut emissions in half along the Wasatch Front over the next seven years. After Republican pushback, he agreed to have the more aggressive measures, like regulations on car emissions and incentives for greener vehicles, replaced with a study of where elements in the air like bromine come from and how they react with other particles in the air.

Gov. Spencer Cox has already announced a request to the Environmental Protection Agency to include U.S. Magnesium’s refinery, which is in Tooele County near the Great Salt Lake, be placed within the Northern Wasatch Front Air Quality Nonattainment Area. According to the EPA, a nonattainment area does not meet certain air quality standards.

“As our state continues to grow, we need to begin to look more strategically at opportunities to continue this trajectory [toward cleaner air],” Cox said of his request. “This intentional approach gives us a focused range of tools that align with the outcome we all want — cleaner air and a better quality of life for Utahns.”

Experts testified that a more thorough study would allow scientists to further understand the effect bromine has on smog.

“It's difficult to just look at the numbers and say whether something has made an impact without doing a very detailed study,” said NOAA study author Caroline Womack. “And as far as I know, that hasn't been done.”

The bill still needs approval in the full Senate before the end of the legislative session on March 3.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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