SALT LAKE CITY — A board of state regulators adopted a set of comprehensive plans Wednesday to cut chronic air pollution along the heavily populated urban corridor of northern Utah.
The plans won't bring relief for years, however, and a group of Utah doctors and other clean-air advocates lambasted the Utah Air Quality Board for failing to move more aggressively. They also criticized the board for approving major expansions at Salt Lake oil refineries in the meantime.
By official accounts, Utah's mandatory emission reductions aren't designed to achieve federal air quality standards until 2019 at the earliest. But by then, the state may have to find ways to cut emissions further as the federal government tightens air-quality standards.
Air pollution has summer and winter seasons in Utah that are associated with high-pressure systems that can trap polluted air in bowl-shaped mountain basins. The winter season opened with Utah's first major winter storm Tuesday, when counts of fine soot in the air skyrocketed along the heavily populated Wasatch Front. For reasons not fully understood, snow amplifies the effect of air pollution.
"The numbers jumped way up with snow on the ground," said Bo Call, who monitors the pollution for the Utah Division of Air Quality.
Utah's air was bad enough last winter to prompt three rallies on Utah's Capitol Hill. Northern Utah had 22 days of toxic air as weather systems trapped murky air close to the ground. More recently, Utah earned "F'' grades from the American Lung Association.
The Utah Air Quality Board adopted regulations that for the greater Salt Lake region are supposed to reduce emissions by 247 tons a day. It followed up at the same meeting Wednesday with approval for separate plans in Utah and Cache counties.
The regulations cover everything from industrial smokestacks to household products. Utah is banning the sale of aerosols like hair spray with high concentrations of hydrocarbons. Another regulation requires hamburger restaurants to install catalytic converters for open broilers.
Most of northern Utah's air pollution, however, comes from tailpipe emissions, and regulators say they can't do much about that.
Critics say Utah didn't lean heavily enough on industry for emissions cuts. The plans give major polluters until 2017-19 to phase in more effective smokestack controls.
"We can't wait until 2019," said Thomas Plustwik, a Salt Lake City resident who conducts home-energy audits for Greenify Energy Savers. "I'm holding out on having a family myself. I don't want my wife to be pregnant breathing this air."
Air pollution assaults the human body in ways that have only recently been made clear by medical studies, and it hits children, infants and developing embryos especially hard, said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment.
By waiting until 2019 to achieve federal air-quality standards, "we're condemning tens of thousands of children to poor health," he said.
Exposure to toxic air can damage chromosomes that get passed on to ensuing generations, he said. It also can trigger latent disease in people, he said.
Regulators said they were doing the best they can to clear Utah's air.
"This is four years of work, and it's all coming to fruition," said Steven Sands, chairman of the Utah Air Quality Board and external-relations chief for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., one of Utah's major polluters.