UDAQ Not Fulfilling Its Mandate to Protect Public Health

In a letter to the Utah Division of Air Quality, Board President Dr. Brian Moench writes:

UPHE has learned that the Utah Division of Air Quality (UDAQ) posted a proposed rule change that invokes section 179B(b) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) on May 5, with a deadline for comments of May 25 on a “Demonstration” document regarding Northern Wasatch Front (NWF) Ozone Nonattainment. UPHE has numerous problems with the process and the intent behind seeking to avoid the emission reduction obligations required by a moderate Nonattainment Areas (NAA) designation for ozone. 


First, regarding the process, the Demonstration document is 145 pages long with detailed atmospheric modeling and complex meteorological data.  There is no realistic opportunity for the public to analyze and critique a document like this in a matter of 20 days, and it is a cynical gesture that UDAQ would even present it to the public with that time frame. Challenging or recalculating the data would require hiring experts to review the information in a completely unrealistic time frame, and at a cost that no non-profit, non-governmental, or non-corporate entity could afford. Guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes this directive:

From UDAQ website

“In addition to providing a conceptual model and evidence of international anthropogenic emissions transport to the subject area in a demonstration, EPA encourages air agencies to conduct and document (in the demonstration) a public comment process for all section 179B demonstrations prior to submitting the demonstration to EPA. In addition to coordinating with their respective EPA Regional office throughout the development of any section 179B demonstrations, EPA also recommends that air agencies notify their respective EPA Regional office when the state public comment process begins. In the case of a section 179B(a) ‘prospective’ demonstration, the public comment process would be documented as part of completeness requirements in the associated SIP. In the case of a section 179B(b)–(d) ‘retrospective’ demonstration, the air agency would likely need to conduct a demonstration-specific public comment process to include in its stand-alone submission.” 

UDAQ cannot satisfy those guidelines providing a time line of 20 days to the public. UPHE formally requests a minimum of a 60-day extension of the comment period given the complexity of the Demonstration document.

Second, UPHE disputes that UDAQ is fulfilling its mandate to protect public health by appealing for “relief from the upcoming reclassification to moderate status.”  In fact, the term “relief” is telling because it carries the obvious implication that achieving air quality goals that protect public health is considered a burden by UDAQ (or to some entity that is pressuring UDAQ to pursue this Demonstration document). This begs the question, “From whom did the directive come to pursue this?”

If the appeal were to be successful, the end result would be that UDAQ would be “relieved” of an obligation to reduce Utahns exposure to ozone. Obviously, ozone that originates internationally has the same health consequence as ozone the originates locally. Hundreds of medical studies have revealed the serious health hazard of ozone, and virtually all relevant medical organizations have called for the ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to be made more strict. 

Furthermore, as with particulate pollution, the medical research is absolutely clear. There is no safe level of exposure to ozone. We mention just one of many studies, published in one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, JAMA, that illustrate the impact on human health. Following over 7,000 patients for 18 years, from areas with typically less ozone than in Utah, researchers found that exposure to an increase of just 3 ppb ozone for ten years was associated with as much loss of lung function and lung tissue as smoking a pack a day of cigarettes for 29 years. With studies like this and many others, it is unconscionable that UDAQ would be maneuvering to provide even less protection to Utahns from ozone.

Third, even non-experts can see that the document is flawed and is confusing if not self-contradictory. On page 8, it says, “while international emissions are likely to have an impact on Utah ozone measurements, differences between ozone exceedance and non-exceedance days do not appear to be correlated with changes in international emissions.” But on page 13 the document says, “The analyses included in this demonstration provide evidence that internationally transported ozone contributes to the ozone concentrations on exceedance and non-exceedance days in the NWF NAA.”

The document presents data that indicates “attainment” status for Southern Wasatch Front (SWF), but “non-attainment” for NWF. It would be logical to assume that given the proximity of SWF and NWF, both areas would be equally impacted by international drift of ozone or its precursors. If so, the logical assumption is that there are more local sources in NWF than in SWF. Empirically, that is the case. There are more industrial sources of ozone precursors in NWF, which could and should be considered as targets for reduction rather than seeking regulatory escape by invoking 179B. One example is emblematic. Controversial aerial pesticide spraying is conducted by the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District repeatedly during the high ozone season. Studies from California have found that Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) generated from aerial pesticide spraying can increase local ozone levels as much as 15 ppb, persisting for up to two days. With multiple spraying events throughout the late spring, summer and fall, there is no reason for UDAQ not to regulate/prohibit this activity. But it currently does not merely because it is a “mobile” source. 

Furthermore, the document suggests that there is similar attribution from international sources on days of exceedance and days of compliance with the standard. If so, that too indicates that international sources are not the cause of failure to meet the standard, even if they do contribute to Utah ozone levels.

Fourth, this is an issue of environmental justice. The populated area of the state of Utah exposed to the most air pollution is the West side of Salt Lake City, West Bountiful, and North Salt Lake. This is the same area most heavily populated by communities of color, and those economically disadvantaged. This is also the same area that is exposed to the VOCs from aerial pesticide spraying and other environmental neurotoxins.  This area will suffer dramatically more air pollution and other environmental contaminants if the inland port is allowed to proceed. If a moderate NAA designation for ozone is maintained in the NWF, the community will retain at least one regulatory defense against being victimized by a significant new source of pollution.

Fifth, the only possible rationale for UDAQ seeking “relief” from reclassification would be either profit protection of corporations whose emissions contribute to ozone, or an economic benefit to the community at large. The first is obviously illegitimate. The second is not the mandate of UDAQ. Nonetheless, with the Wasatch Front having the lowest unemployment rate and fastest economic growth in the country, any attempted economic justification for failing to protect public health by pursuing relief from reclassification is equally inappropriate.

Sixth, it is disturbing to say the least that UDAQ appears to have spent a considerable amount of taxpayer money, including staff time and contracting with a third party, towards achieving the goal of allowing Utahns to be exposed to more ozone. We estimate that thousands of man-hours were devoted to this dubious project with an unstated but undeniable goal of undermining public health, and at a cost to Utah taxpayers of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars. In short this appears to be scandalous behavior by an agency of state government.

In addition to granting the comment period extension, we request that UDAQ release a full disclosure of the cost to Utah taxpayers of this Section 179B(b) Demonstration project, as well as any entity that requested this action from the agency.