- Associated Press - Sunday, February 2, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s call for urgent measures to cut air pollution has left regulators scrambling as legislators question how much their efforts will accomplish.

Herbert used his recent State of the State address to promise a rapid transition to cleaner-burning gasoline that lawmakers say it isn’t widely available and works effectively only with a new generation of low-emission vehicles.

The Republican governor also announced $18 million in new funding to replace diesel-powered school buses and pay for air-quality research, and an executive order limiting idling time in state vehicles. Herbert also said the state will provide transit passes to state employees at no extra cost to taxpayers.

A gasoline switch ahead of any federal mandate would require approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, action by legislators and the cooperation of oil refineries.

Herbert made no mention of that or of the downside of making Utah a “fuel island,” said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.

“Most legislators feel they need to be part of the decision-making,” said Valentine, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. “This is not going to be just an executive action. We need to dig in and start working on it.”

Herbert’s proposals come on top of a series of mandatory emissions reductions recently adopted by his Air Quality Board for the urban corridor of northern Utah. But the plans do little to cut tailpipe emissions, the largest source of the pollution, and by design won’t clean the air until 2019 at the earliest.

Cars with advanced catalytic converters using low-sulfur gasoline burn 80 percent cleaner than current models and “there is absolutely no reason to wait” to adopt the standards, Herbert said.

EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said his agency understands the need for urgent action in northern Utah and welcomes a new dialogue with state officials.

Even environmental groups that support a second call by Herbert for a winter ban on wood-burning question how Utah will be able to police it without an army of roving inspectors.

“If they’re going to enforce a season-long wood burning ban in Utah, they’ll need more money, staff and equipment,” said Matt Pacenza of HEAL Utah.

Valentine said legislative lawyers don’t believe Herbert’s Air Quality Board has the authority to ban use of fireplaces and wood stoves “for the entire winter inversion season” instead of just on bad-air days. And legislators are complaining it would deny some households their only source of heat.

“To take away people’s ability to heat their homes, that’s rough,” Valentine said.

Northern Utah spent much of January under a health alert because of thermal inversions, which trap cold air and pollutants that build up from everyday emissions in mountain valleys.

The region has more than 200 households dependent on wood burning as a sole source of heat, according to a state registry. The group Breathe Utah is offering natural gas-fired pot-bellied stoves as a replacement, but it has enough money only to help five households and is starting in the Salt Lake City area, where one house still burns coal.

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