Who is to blame for Utah’s bad air quality?

Posted at 9:33 PM, Jan 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-07 23:36:55-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- There's no simple answer to the question, and there's no simple solution.

"The air pollution conditions that we have right now and have had for about a week and are steadily getting worse is a bona fide health emergency," said Dr. Brian Moench, who is the President of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Moench's group studies the state's air quality, how it affects peoples' health and who is making it worse.

"The single biggest group of contributors are emissions from vehicles," said Dr. Moench.

The Utah Division of Air Quality says 38 percent of the state's air pollution comes from cars and trucks. The second biggest contributor? Large industries. They make up 28 percent of the air pollution, combined. 26 percent comes from commercial, like fast food restaurants and businesses and a small portion, 8 percent, comes from households from things like wood burning. However, Dr. Moench puts a lot of the blame on the big corporations.

"Rio Tinto's the single biggest contributor amongst the industrial group and then the oil refineries," Moench said.

Kennecott Copper says that's far from the truth.

"We contribute 5.8 percent of annual emissions in the local air shed, and we have a small impact when it comes to wintertime inversions, because we shut our power plant down during the winter and our mine and our smelter are both above the inversion ceilings," said Kyle Bennett, Kennecott's spokesman.

FOX 13 also contacted the state's five largest oil refineries: Tesoro, Chevron, Silver Eagle, Big West Oil Company and Holly Frontier Refinery.

"We made significant improvements, installing a wet gas scrubber which reduces fine particulate emissions as well as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide," said Mike Astin, the Environmental Manager at Holly.

Part of the problem may be that right now the state does not meet the EPA's guidelines, but the federal government has given the Division of Air Quality until 2014 to come up with a plan to reduce emissions.

"Unfortunately, there's no single silver bullet to achieve perfect air, but what we have to do is come together as a community and find ways to create solutions to the air quality problems that we have here," Bennett said.