Working to Clean Utah’s Air

Joro-WalkerEvery Utah resident and visitor deserves to breathe the air without fear of significant health problems. We are proud to use the law to block additional air pollution and to ensure that a strong state clean air plan is developed and implemented quickly.

– Joro Walker, Utah Director

Air quality along Utah’s Wasatch Front, the corridor of cities and towns where most Utahns live, is a critical public health issue. The counties along the Wasatch Front have been designated as not attaining the national health-based air pollution standard for fine particulate matter. Air monitors in Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous county, also show violations of the ozone air pollution standard. The problem is deadly. In 2013, air quality along the Wasatch Front exceeded the United States’ health-based standards – called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) – for at least 47 days, sometimes exceeding the standard by 100%. This means that for more than a month, these communities – including their most vulnerable populations, children and the elderly – were subjected to levels of air pollution considerably higher than concentrations deemed unsafe and unhealthy even at exposures lasting only 24 hours. These clean air violations primarily occur in the winter months when atmospheric inversion creates a trapping effect, resulting in a thick fog of dirty air cloaking the region. On these bad air days children are told not to play at recess. The elderly are cautioned to stay indoors. Everyone is discouraged from exercising outside.

Air Pollution Is a Serious Health Issue

Air pollution exacerbates existing asthma in adults and children, and even causes asthma and respiratory infections in those who are not predisposed. Air pollution increases instances of low birth weight, premature births, and infant mortality. Air pollution increases certain forms of childhood cancers, especially leukemia. Air pollution increases heart attacks and strokes, and raises blood pressure. The level of air pollution in the Wasatch front is causing 1,400 to 2,000 premature deaths each year. Basically, air pollution is harmful to everyone, shortening life expectancy. It’s no wonder that with this significant a problem, polling shows addressing air pollution is a top priority for Utah residents.

Citizens, Physicians and Groups Unite to Clean the Air

Working to improve Utah’s air is now one of the top priorities of Western Resource Advocates and numerous conservation and public health organizations. WRA partners often with organization such as Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, HEAL Utah and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. Federal law requires immediate and significant emission reductions to improve air quality in our communities. We need strong action to reduce emissions from big industrial polluters. We are working to ensure that the state does all that the law requires to clean our air. WRA is leading on three different efforts to clean Utah’s air:

  • Shaping a strong Utah State Implementation Plan to comply with the Clean Air Act. The State of Utah is responsible for developing a proposal to submit to the federal government outlining how the State will meet national clean air standards as “expeditiously as practicable.” Our attorneys and experts are working to ensure that the State of Utah requires significant emission reductions from sources such as refineries, mining operations, gravel pits, and diesel engines. We are urging the State to develop and implement a strong plan as fast as possible.
  • Preventing the State of Utah from permitting oil refinery expansions that increase air pollution. Two oil refineries in the area, HollyFrontier and Tesoro, have been given permission by the State of Utah to expand their operations and increase their pollution. We are challenging these permits to force the State to stop additional air pollution.
  • Requiring better state air quality permitting. The State is responsible for issuing permits to specific sources of air pollution (called point sources) determining how much air pollution is allowed to be emitted. By commenting on and challenging weak air quality permits, WRA works to improve regulation and state oversight of big industrial polluters. We also filed a law suit challenging the State’s failure to issue a Title V permit to the Tesoro refinery. Title V permits are required by United States law for major sources of air pollution and allow EPA and citizens to better enforce permits; require rigorous air quality monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting; and ensure compliance with other air quality laws.

Utah residents have a right to clean air and WRA is dedicated to using our expertise and legal support to ensure the State achieves clean air. Children, the elderly and all residents have a right to play, recreate and enjoy their lives outside. A healthy populace is also a productive economic state, attracting new business and ensuring healthy workers. Everyone benefits from clean air and only a limited set of interests benefit from polluting. It is time the State of Utah stepped up its clean air actions to protect public health and the environment.

Utah Air Pollution

A Clean Air Blueprint for Utah

19 Proposals to Ensure a Healthy, Prosperous Future




jor walker

Joro Walker

General Counsel