Utah submits an air quality plan, so a lawsuit over air pollution will be dropped for now

SALT LAKE CITY — A lawsuit threatened against the state for years of bad air will be dropped now that Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality has submitted a plan to federal officials outlining how air quality is improving.

FOX 13 first reported earlier this year on the litigation being threatened by the Center for Biological Diversity, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and other groups. They accused the Environmental Protection Agency of not holding Utah accountable for more than a decade of bad air, alleging deadlines were skipped with no punishment against the state.

“We have been out of compliance with that standard since it changed in 2006,” said Bryce Bird, Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality’s air quality director.

But the DEQ has recently submitted a plan to the EPA.

“For now, that makes our litigation moot,” said Deeda Seed, the local campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Seed said it stopped the lawsuit, but only for now. With growth along the Wasatch Front, she predicted it was only a matter of time before the lawsuit was revived.

“It’s a pretty rosy picture they’re trying to paint,” Seed said of the DEQ’s proposed air quality plan. “By not taking into account this new growth, they’re missing a huge source of potential new pollution.”

That growth includes development at Point of the Mountain and the massive inland port being planned for Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant and related traffic.

“The emissions from the port could be truly enormous,” Seed told FOX 13. “Those emissions are not contemplated at all in the state implementation plan.”

DEQ insisted it is planning for growth in homes, businesses and consumer activities. Bird pointed out improvements to vehicles, programs that reduce emissions from wood burning, paint solvents and industrial activities. The state also pushed additional controls on industrial sources.

The state is also taking into account a series of air quality measures recently passed and funded by the Utah State Legislature.

“Encouraging smarter growth, better use of public transportation especially when there are meteorological conditions that trap the pollution,” he said.

Seed said the recent legislative bills on air quality help, but it may not keep the air clean enough to keep up with development.

“We’re grateful for that, but it’s not enough,” she said. “You can’t really have this sort of unfettered growth and clean air. It’s just not possible.”

She predicted that if the EPA doesn’t hold Utah accountable and more clean air deadlines are missed, they would be back in court. DEQ submitted a plan for particulate matter and is now working on a plan for ozone.

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