Dave McGee contributed to this article.
2014 appears to be the year lawmakers will finally begin to seriously address the ever-growing problem of air pollution and contamination. Phrases like parts-per-million, parts-per-billion, fine particulates, and 2.5 and 3.5 particulate matter are increasingly becoming part of Utahns’ vernacular as we discuss the effects air pollution has on our health, tourism, psyche, economy, and policy. As our needs have become more sophisticated, so too must our definitions. Unfortunately, Utah statutes on air quality have yet to significantly advance—the result of a bygone era when air pollution did not occupy much of the state’s mental energy.
But the times are changing.
Representative Jerry Anderson (Republican – Price) is the latest lawmaker to jump on the bandwagon this year and attempt to modernize state law so that policy makers and government organizations such as the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Department of Environmental Policy have a firmer grasp of the rules the must work under. HB 229 – Air Contaminant Definition Change should come as no surprise.
Currently, state law simply says that an “air contaminant” is any particulate matter, gas, vapor, suspended solid, or any combination therein. Though this definition is technically correct, it is quite crude. Scientists define air pollution as anything floating in the air, regardless of source, that has a negative effect on the health of plants, animals, or people. The current definition is written so vaguely that in addition to actual pollution, it also includes non-harmful substances such as oxygen, water, and other chemicals or particles that exist in the air naturally—and calls them air contaminants.
Representative Anderson, with HB 229 is making a specific carve-out that would better hone in on the problem of addressing air contaminants specifically related to human activities. The bill says that an air contaminant does not include, “the natural components of the atmosphere, including nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and other noble gases, water vapor, steam, and carbon dioxide in amounts less than 500 parts per million, or any combination of them.”
According to an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, Anderson’s proposed definition is more accurate in creating state statute would remove natural components from the pollution equation, but cautioned that the phrase “natural components of the atmosphere” could cause problems, if only because many natural components could exist in the atmosphere that are harmful to human health. Sulfur dioxide, ozone, pollen, and mineral dust can be naturally occurring, yet still extremely harmful. If Anderson were to rewrite the bill slightly to clarify that language, Utah could avoid any unnecessary headaches in the future.
The bill also specifically names carbon dioxide. It should be noted that concentrations of carbon dioxide under 500 parts per million do naturally occur, it is only when parts per million go over that threshold that human causes are suspected.
As it stands, the bill is in decent shape, but could use some modification to more clearly define what is and is not man-made contamination. But, even as it is currently written, it’s still an improvement over current policy.
To contact Representative Anderson, click here or call 435-637-2548.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker