Clean Air Resolution Advances out of Committee

Smog & Pollution Hang Over The Salt Lake Valley

Implementing Tier III gasoline standards “is one of the most important” things the legislature can do to improve Utah’s air quality,” according to Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake City), who is sponsoring HJR 23. The House resolution would urge the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the Utah Air Quality Board to speed up the implementation of Tier III cars and low-sulfur gasoline to the state.

Representative Arent was giddy to ask for an amendment to her bill in the House Public Utilities and Technology Committee hearing Monday afternoon after she had received word that, earlier in the day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had approved Tier III Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards. As she listed off the various areas of the bill where the word “proposed” Tier III standards existed, she looked for a motion to state that the language should now state that the standards are “approved.”

Representative Lynn Hemingway (Democrat – Salt Lake City), understanding the meaning behind the proposal but missing each individual spot within the bill Arent mentioned, simply motioned for an amendment by stating “I propose an amendment… what she said.”

Once procedure was out of the way, Arent began her presentation in full. She began by noting that “57 percent of our pollution comes from tailpipes and Tier III standards are considered to be the most effective standards we can use to reduce those emissions. A Tier III car can produce 80 percent less pollution that Tier II.”

The reason for this, Arent noted, was that Tier III vehicles, along with low-sulfur gasoline, produce far less pollution than the Tier II vehicles that currently populate the roadway. She was quick to add, however, that even Tier II vehicles, which began to hit roadways in 2004 and were fully implemented by 2009, will also benefit from changes in the gasoline that fuels these vehicles. But, by implementing Tier III standards along with low-sulfur gas, “it is like taking one out of every ten vehicles right off the road,” according to the data Arent and HJR 23 co-sponsor Ed Redd (Republican – Logan) presented to the committee.

“The EPA also estimates that the 7 county area [along the Wasatch Front, Cache Valley, and Tooele County], will gain the most in terms of the Tier III standard, with respect to the reduction of our pm 2.5 [fine particle pollution],” added Arent.

Due to the complex process of national pollution credits, Arent warned the committee that gas refineries can work their way around upgrading to Tier III standards by collecting pollution credits until 2020, upgrading refineries outside of Utah to create an average Tier III standard across a company, or simply waiting until the last minute to upgrade the refineries in the state – all options that maintain the current air pollution levels coming out of smoke stacks along the Wasatch Front’s five refineries.

Redd presented an impressive visual aid: a catalytic converter. Redd informed the committee that the sulfur in Tier II gasoline actually clogs, on a chemical level, the chemicals that allow catalytic converters to function at full capacity and reducing the emissions coming out of a tailpipe. “We don’t get any benefit of Tier III vehicles if we don’t have lower emission fuels… this is not a mandate, it is not a bill, it’s a resolution that tells us, as a state, that this is really important for air quality along the Wasatch Front,” said Redd.

Arent noted that the resolution represents a formal attempt to seek cooperation between the refineries, the Governor’s Office, and the legislature.

Representative John Westwood (Republican – Cedar City) asked Arent if the refineries are on board with such a proposal and what the cost would be if such a program were implemented. “The costs are less than a penny a gallon, the highest price I have heard is nine cents a gallon,” Arent responded.

Chair of the Committee, Roger Barrus (Republican – Centerville) asked what would prevent the refineries from simply upgrading elsewhere. Arent acknowledged that there is nothing that would inherently require refineries from complying, but noted that the resolution being proposed showed a good faith effort on the part of the legislature to work with such companies and that it encourages refineries to be good corporate citizens.

Tier III will be phased in within three years and be in full effect by 2025. The resolution, however, may be placed on a quicker time-frame. The bill passed out of committee unanimously and will be sent to the House floor.

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