The Salt Lake City area of Utah, where I live and work, has some of the worst air pollution in the country. The entire Wasatch Front, which millions of Utahns call home, is plagued by winter-time spikes in concentrations of fine particulate matter that can last for weeks at a time.  Numerous polls show that air pollution is a great concern for most Utah residents.  In light of the public health crisis created by air pollution in Utah, we must use every tool available to reduce air pollution and provide Utahns the clean air to which they are legally entitled.

But as I write, there is cause for celebration. Western Resource Advocates brought a lawsuit in November 2014 on behalf of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) and FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake challenging the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (DAQ) 15-year-long failure issue Tesoro Refinery a federal Clean Air Act permit. The refinery processes crude oil from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Canada to manufacture gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heavy fuel oils and liquefied petroleum gas.  On Tuesday September 8th, we reached a legal settlement with the agency. DAQ agreed to a specific timeline requiring the refinery to update its application and the state to issue the long overdue Clean Air Act Title V permit.

As our partner Tim Wagner, Executive Director of UPHE, said, “Air pollution from Utah’s five refineries is a serious proven threat to public health, especially where we have some of the worst air pollution in the nation at times. Utahns need to know that DAQ is doing all it can to protect public health, and this settlement gives us such reassurance.”

Title V is a federally enforceable permit that provides the public and groups like Utah Physicians and FRIENDS an opportunity to participate in greater oversight of major air pollution sources in order to protect public health and the environment. Title V Clean Air Act permits were congressionally mandated in 1990 with the intent of reducing air pollution by creating more rigorous and protective permits. The state of Utah took on implementation of federal Title V permitting in 1995—but has allowed Utah’s five oil refineries to operate without permits since that time. That is until this September settlement announced committed DAQ to develop a Title V permit for Tesoro oil refinery. About time!

We join FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake and UPHE in hoping that DAQ will move quickly to issue Title V permits to Utah’s four other major refineries that contribute to unhealthy air quality in our valley. Great Salt Lake and Utah’s Wasatch Front communities deserve the same protections as those enforced around the country.

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