Comments on proposed designation of Salt Lake City and Provo as “attainment” for the 24 hr PM2.5 standard (2)

December 7, 2020

Air and Radiation Division
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street,
Denver, Colorado 80202–1129

submitted via: Federal Rulemaking Portal:

Re: Docket ID No. EPA–R08–OAR–2020–0098, Proposed Approval and Promulgation of Implementation Plans; State of Utah; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah PM2.5 Redesignations to Attainment and Utah State Implementation Plan Revisions

Dear Air and Radiation Division,

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the EPA proposed approval and promulgation of implementation plans; State of Utah; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah PM2.5 redesignations to
attainment and Utah State Implementation Plan revisions (Docket ID No. EPA–R08–OAR–2020–0098. I make these comments on behalf of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, HEAL Utah and Western Resource Advocates.

We have already submitted comments that focus on the inadequacies of Utah SIP SectionsIX.H.11, 12 and 13; Utah Admin. Code R309; and the best available control measures/best
available control technologies (BACM/BACT) PM2.5 determinations for Salt Lake City and Provo. We also noted that due in part to the ongoing pandemic, EPA’s refusal to give the public, at a minimum, an additional 30 days to comment on its voluminous, complex, highly technical and critically important proposed approvals was unconscionable and antidemocratic. We also asked EPA to reissue its proposed decisions and provide, at a minimum, a 60-day public comment period on the proposed decisions encompassed by 85 Fed. Reg. 71023 (Nov. 6 2020).

This set of comments does not reiterate those points, but instead addresses the proposed maintenance plans for the Salt Lake City and Provo nonattainment areas and the request for
redesignation of these areas under the 2006 24-hour PM2.5 standard. For the reasons provided below, we find those plans inadequate and ask EPA to reject them.

I. Commenting Organizations

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club works to protect Utah’s wild places, wildlife, and waters, as well as the people and communities who depend on them. Our activism and advocacy are based on our strong grassroots networks, citizen-based leadership, and the guidance and skillsets of professional staff support. With over 5,600 members, and growing, we work to protect public lands, promote renewable energy, and support initiatives that promote clean air strategies. We maintain a presence at the Utah Legislature to advocate on the full spectrum of environmental issues and amplify the voices of our members.

Western Resource Advocates is a regional non-profit conservation organization with programs and staff spanning the Intermountain West, including Utah. Our mission is to protect the West’s land, air and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance with nature. To this end, we work to ensure the West will have clean air and clean water to support healthy communities and vital habitat.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science-based health education and interventions that result in progressive, measurable improvements to the environment and our health.

HEAL Utah promotes clean air and renewable energy, and protects public health and the environment from nuclear and other toxic threats. Representing more than 20,000 members,
HEAL has a long track record of achieving positive change in the state by mobilizing local communities, promoting science-based public policy and legislation, and strategically working
with regulatory agencies.

The organizations’ interest in the present matter is based on the public health crisis that exists as a result of severe and frequent spikes in PM2.5 air pollution that occur in northern Utah. These
acute, and often long-lasting episodes of high concentrations of PM2.5 jeopardize the health and well-being of northern Utah’s residents and visitors. The organizations listed above have each
already spent thousands of hours and significant resources on behalf of their members, supporters and staff in efforts to influence the decisions now before EPA.

II. Utah’s Maintenance Plans Are Not Legally Adequate.

A. Utah Did Not Show that Future Concentrations at the Near-Road Monitor Would Meet the 24-Hour PM2.5 Standard.

Pursuant to the Clean Air Act, Utah was required to have an operational PM2.5 near-road monitor in the Salt Lake City NAA by January 1, 2017. 78 Fed. Reg. 3086, 3241 (Jan. 15, 2013). This regulatory requirement was based on scientific evidence that PM2.5 concentrations are higher near highways and that, as a result, low-income and minority populations are disproportionately exposed to high PM2.5 concentrations and therefore bear a disproportionate risk of adverse health
outcomes from PM2.5. 81 Fed. Reg. 58010, 58136 (August 24, 2016). Utah’s near-road monitor, finally installed close to I-15 in January 2019, often records the highest concentrations of PM2.5
in the state.

EPA has explained that monitoring data from the required PM2.5 near road monitored is to be considered when determining if a nonattainment area is attaining a PM2.5 NAAQS and whether a
maintenance demonstration is adequate: “When complete data from near-road PM2.5 ambient monitors become available, the data should be used by states and the EPA for all aspects of the
NAAQS implementation process, from attainment planning to the determination of attainment.”
81 Fed. Reg. at 58138.

However, Utah did not show in its maintenance demonstration for the Salt Lake City NAA that the future design values (FDV) at the near road monitor would be lower than the PM2.5 NAAQS.
Indeed, Utah did not address the near road monitor at all. As a result, Utah’s maintenance demonstration is not sufficient.

As EPA explains:

When the FDV is smaller than the NAAQS at every monitor in the NAA, this would demonstrate attainment for the area in that specific future year. A maintenance plan must demonstrate continued attainment of the NAAQS for a span of ten years.

85 Fed. Reg. at 71038 (emphasis added). Thus, because Utah has not established that the FDV at every monitor – including the near road monitor – in the Salt Lake City NAA is below the NAAQS, the demonstration falls short of the necessary requirements.

EPA’s proposal to find that the Utah has demonstrated continued attainment in Salt Lake City NAA is particularly dangerous given what we have learned during a global pandemic that attacks
the respiratory system. As EPA is aware, studies in the United States,(1) United Kingdom,(2) Italy,(3) Europe,(4) and China(5) indicate that exposure to poor air quality increases the risks of COVID-19 infection and mortality. Indeed, one analysis identified a preliminary link between a small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 and the likelihood of death from COVID-19.(6)
This Harvard study found that someone who lives for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate pollution is 8% more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone who lives in a region that has just one unit (one microgram per cubic meter) less of such pollution.

Of additional importance is that higher death rates have been observed among minority and low-income communities, underscoring that pre-existing economic and health disparities result from increased exposure to air pollution. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age.”(7) Further, minority populations are disproportionately exposed to air pollution, which harms health and may make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Thus, COVID-19 underscores the health disparities that far too many Utahns face. The same populations that are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards such as air pollution are also at increased risk from the pandemic. As a result, it is of critical importance to ensure that all Salt Lake City residents, including those disproportionately impacted by pollution and living near highways, are being protected by the PM2.5 NAAQS. Without modeling applied to the required near road monitor, EPA cannot make these assurances or fulfill its obligation to protect public health. As a result, EPA should reverse its proposed decision and require Utah to show continued attainment at all monitoring stations in the Salt Lake City NAA.

B. Utah’s Choice of Episode Fails to Support the Maintenance Demonstration.

To make its maintenance demonstration and attempt to show continued attainment, Utah relies on the selected the “January 2011 episode to conduct the modeled maintenance demonstration
work for the Provo and Salt Lake City areas.” 85 Fed. Reg. at 71038. According to EPA, Utah “selected three episodes: (1) January 1– 10, 2011; (2) December 7–19, 2013; and (3) February 1–
16, 2016.” Ultimately, “DAQ concluded that the [2011] model performed well in replicating the buildup and dispersal of PM2.5 in the Provo and Salt Lake City NAAs, and thus the model could
be used for air quality planning purposes.”

Not coincidently, the January 2011 episode is the shortest of the episodes that Utah examined – lasting only 10 days compared to the 13-day and 16-day lengths of the other episodes. This is
important for two reasons. First, the 2011 episode is not representative of the conditions that produce the highest and most problematic concentrations of PM2.5 along the Wasatch Front. However, these are the conditions that must be modeled. As EPA is well aware, concentrations of PM2.5 along the Wasatch Front are at their highest when there is a consistent high pressure
over the area. Indeed, examination of the lengths and severity of the 2013 and 2016 episodes underscore this fact. The longer such conditions last, the more days the area experiences that are
over the 25-hour PM2.5 NAAQS and the higher those concentrations tend to be. Thus, by using the shortest episode of those considered and relying on a relatively brief episode among all the Wasatch Front episodes that lead to our worst air quality, Utah has failed to really test its maintenance plan and to demonstrate continued compliance under the conditions that cause violations of the NAAQS.

Second, Utah’s choice of the January 2011 episode as the best performer merely demonstrates that Utah’s model is not good at predicting what happens when the Wasatch Front experiences
more lengthy inversions. The fact that Utah’s model fails to replicate what happens during extended inversions encourages Utah to rely on the shorter episode, which in turn fails to show
continued attainment under the conditions most likely to result in violations of the NAAQS. In the end, Utah has not made an adequate maintenance demonstration because it has not created a or used model that will represent the very conditions that cause NAAQS violations and most threaten the public health – inversions that last longer than nine days.

Further, EPA notes just how unreliable Utah’s model really is, noting that “UDAQ found that WRF–ARW had difficulty reproducing the inversion when the inversion was shallow and strong (i.e., an 8-degree temperature increase over 100 vertical meters).” 85 Fed. Reg. at 71038. Yet, rather than undertake an independent review of Utah’s model and supporting that review with evidence in the record, EPA merely acquiesces to Utah’s maintenance demonstration. Rather, we ask EPA to undertake a thorough examination of Utah’s maintenance demonstration and to document that review in the record.

III. Conclusion

Based on the above, we ask EPA to disapprove Utah’s maintenance demonstration and request for redesignation and to require Utah to properly establish continued attainment based on all monitoring stations and on one or more episodes that reflect the most dangerous conditions that plague the Wasatch Front – extended inversions.

Thank you again for this opportunity to comment on EPA’s proposed decision. We hope that you will modify that decision in keeping with the analysis in these comments.

General Counsel
Western Resource Advocates
and Attorney for Commenting

  1. Wu X, Nethery RC, Sabath BM, Braun D, Dominici F. Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States. medRxiv 2020: 2020.04.05.20054502; Liang D, Shi L, Zhao J, et al. Urban Air Pollution May Enhance COVID-19 Case Fatality and Mortality Rates in the
    United States. medRxiv 2020: 2020.05.04.20090746.
  2. Travaglio M, Yu Y, Popovic R, Selley L, Leal NS, Martins LM. Links between air pollution and COVID-19 in England. medRxiv 2020.04.16.20067405.
  3. Conticini E, Frediani B, Caro D. Can atmospheric pollution be considered a co-factor in extremely high level of SARS-CoV-2 lethality in Northern Italy? Environmental Pollution 2020: 114465.
  4. Ogen Y. Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality. Sci Total Environ 2020; 726: 138605.
  5. Y. Zhu, J. Xie, F. Huang, L. Cao. Association between short-term exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 infection: evidence from China Sci. Total Environ., 727 (2020)
  6. Wu X, Nethery RC, Sabath BM, Braun D, Dominici F. Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States. medRxiv 2020: 2020.04.05.20054502
  7. minorities.html