Utah clean air advocates say Trump’s plan to weaken pollution standards is ‘unthinkable’
Photo: (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Southbound traffic on I-15 approaching Pleasant Grove on Wednesday Aug. 28, 2019.
Updated: August 29, 2019
A bipartisan pair of Utah lawmakers on Wednesday decried a Trump administration proposal to weaken the nation’s car-emissions standards, a change the two said their inversion-plagued state can ill afford.
Utah Reps. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, and Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, called on the state’s congressional leaders — specifically Sen. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams — to oppose rolling back the pollution rules and to fight for polices that will enhance air quality.
“I have had patients who have beaten radiation and chemotherapy and even beaten cancer, but they can’t beat our air pollution,” Harrison, a physician, said during the Capitol news conference.
Earlier this year, the American Lung Association ranked Salt Lake City the nation’s 14th most polluted city for ozone; Harrison said the state’s poor air quality has forced some of her patients to stay indoors and others to leave Utah altogether.
Trump’s move to relax the Obama-era fuel efficiency standards would threaten the progress Utah has made on tailpipe emissions and potentially hinder economic development related to clean-car technology, said Harrison and Handy, co-chairs of the Clean Air Caucus.
Vehicle exhaust accounts for about half the Wasatch Front’s air pollution, sickening and even killing Utah residents, research suggests.
Handy said the state has been hard at work to address the problem by bringing cleaner Tier 3 fuel to Utah’s gas stations. Gov. Gary Herbert has called on local refiners to speed up adoption of the new standards, and the Legislature has approved spending more than $2 million in tax breaks to spur the conversion.
“We want cleaner cars. We want alternative vehicles. … We need to be driving less,” Handy said. “And we all need to be smarter about the technologies that we use to keep our air clean.”
Ben Abbott, an assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, said a recent study showed that air pollution kills more people than smoking. And while people pay special attention to “sensitive groups” particularly impacted by poor quality, everyone is affected at some level, he said.
“Any exposure to air pollution degrades our health,” he warned.
The risks associated with bad air range from the obvious — breathing problems — to nervous and reproductive system issues and depression, Abbott said.
Vehicle manufactures have listened to these air quality concerns and shown a commitment to reducing emissions in accordance with the Obama administration’s standards, said Tammie Bostick, executive director of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition.
“To propose a rollback of emissions standards is simply unthinkable and hopefully impossible at this point,” Bostick said.
The existing fuel efficiency standards will save the average Utah household $3,050 in gas costs by 2030, money that would be plowed back into the local economy to create an estimated 4,700 new jobs, the Union of Concerned Scientists has predicted.
While the oil industry supports Trump’s rollback plan, automakers have said it goes too far. Four car manufacturers — Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — earlier this year sided against Trump and entered into a pact with California to adhere to rules only slightly less restrictive than the Obama standards. Blindsided by the deal, the White House this month was scrambling to prevent more defections by car manufacturers, who are concerned that different fuel efficiency standards would bifurcate the auto market, The New York Times reported.
In response to the morning news conference, Romney’s office sent a statement.
“I support greater efficiency standards in cars, trucks, and factories to reduce energy consumption and pollution,” the senator said in the statement. “I support the utilization of all our energy resources including gas, coal, wind, nuclear, geothermal, hydro, and solar.”
When asked for a comment, McAdams’ spokeswoman referred to a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed penned in April 2018 by the Democratic congressman supporting Obama’s fuel efficiency standards and calling on former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt to abandon the proposed rollback.
“At a time when we’ve made great bipartisan progress, with all levels of local, state and federal government working cooperatively towards our clean air goals, we urge Pruitt to reconsider his position,” McAdams, who was Salt Lake County’s mayor at the time, wrote with several council members and city mayors. “Utahns’ health, our economy and our environment are at stake.”