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Meeting EPA air standards: impact on business.

Meeting EPA Air Standards

Environmental Protection Agency mandates for cleaning the air have a way of making business owners and managers nervous. More regulations, piles of paperwork for higher-cost permits, and hefty fines for violations of air quality standards are enough to give anyone in business a headache. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 spell out specific deadlines for states to complete their own plans for meeting federal air quality standards. The act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to dictate policy when deadlines are not met.

Utah has begun work to meet the Clean Air Act's November 1992 deadline for the state's plan to reduce carbon monoxide levels. Carbon monoxide, CO in chemistry shorthand, is a gas produced by incomplete combustion. It is colorless, odorless and deadly. Our cars, with their internal combustion engines, are the largest source of this gas, but all combustion - from forest fires to the backyard barbecue - add CO to the atmosphere.

The state's implementation plan, or the CO SIP in EPA jargon, must demonstrate that all areas in the state can achieve national ambient air standards for carbon monoxide by 1996. The state must show EPA how air standards can be maintained for 10 years, not an easy task with increasing population growth and a continuing trend of more vehicle-miles-per-person. No other pollutant offers a greater challenge for control because 80 percent and more of CO is produced by automobiles. There are no "clean industries" where carbon monoxide is concerned. Every business that has an employee commute to work in a vehicle is an indirect source of carbon monoxide. Reducing levels of this pollutant challenge driving habits and give an opportunity to take pause and look at the workplace in new ways.

Non-attainment Area Boundaries

Air quality standards allow no more than nine carbon monoxide atoms in a million. EPA refers to an area with more CO than nine parts per million as a CO non-attainment area. In the 1970s and early 1980s all Wasatch Front counties contained non-attainment areas. Ogden exceeded the 8-hour air quality standard 62 times in 1976 with readings almost double the standard. The same year, Salt Lake City exceeded the standard 42 times, Provo 46 times, and Bountiful 16 times. Under the original Clean Air Act, the cities of Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo were all designated as non-attainment areas for carbon monoxide. The boundaries of the non-attainment areas were the city limits.

Cleaner cars and Wasatch County emission inspection and maintenance programs have significantly reduced carbon monoxide levels. By 1989, only Provo still exceeded CO air quality standards. In 1990 Ogden exceeded standards for the first time since 1986. Under the clean air act amendments, EPA has requested that states expand the defined non-attainment areas to include either whole counties, or at least metropolitan statistical areas.

The Utah Division of Air Quality held public hearings in April and May on expanding area boundaries. Business and government leaders objected to expanding the boundaries, citing possible negative impact on economic development. EPA has agreed to Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter's request to keep the non-attainment boundaries at the city limits until more data is gathered. An EPA ruling is expected in early 1992.

Boundaries for non-attainment areas make little difference to existing businesses that are not direct sources of carbon monoxide pollutants. Pollution control regulations regarding mobile sources (automobiles and other vehicles) are applied on a countywide basis in Utah. Business vehicles must meet emission standards just as private vehicles do. However, industrial sources producting more than 100 tons of carbon monoxide a year are more tightly regulated by EPA guidelines if the source is in a non-attainment area.

EPA Region VII Air Programs Environmental Engineer Lee Hanley said industries within a designated CO non-attainment area must offset any increase in carbon monoxide with a reduction of the pollutant elsewhere. For example, Geneva Steel produced an estimated 30,000 tons of carbon monoxide in 1990. In 1991, Geneva began operation of their Q-BOP, a basic oxygen furnace to replace the open hearth. While the Q-BOP is expected to make significant reductions in the steel plant's emissions of small particulate pollution, carbon monoxide is increased. If the non-attainment area designation limited to Provo had included Geneva Steel, Geneva would have been required to show CO reductions equal to increased CO from the Q-BOP.

In Utah, even indirect sources of carbon monoxide must meet offset requirements if the business is located in a non-attainment area. A new parking lot with 600 or more spaces must demonstrate CO offsets to get a permit from the Division of Air Quality. When Seven Peaks Resort sought a permit to build a parking lot to accommodate visitors to a proposed ski resort east of Provo, Seven Peaks was required to demonstrate how carbon monoxide produced by increased traffic would be offset by carbon monoxide reductions elsewhere. The city of Provo worked with Seven Peaks to demonstrate how changing traffic patterns and improved flow through intersections could offset carbon monoxide produced by more cars.

Reducing Carbon Monoxide

Emission control requirements for vehicles and EPA-mandated emission inspection programs have gone a long way toward reducing carbon monoxide along the Wasatch Front. The difficulty is two opposing trends: cleaner cars versus more vehicle miles. Cleaner burning fuels help.

Because Provo still exceeds CO air quality standards, oxygenated fuels will be required in Utah County for the first time in the winter of 1992-93. The EPA mandates oxygenated fuels from November 1 to the end of February in all counties containing a non-attainment area. Oxygenated fuels are made by combining gasoline with ethanol to produce gasohol or by adding MTBE to gasoline. MTBE is a petroleum product, while ethanol is made from grain. Oxygenated fuels will add an estimated five cents to the cost of a gallon, but may decrease carbon monoxide emissions from automobiles using the fuel by as much as 20 percent, according to Jeff Houk, EPA air programs specialist on mobile sources. In Denver, oxygenated fuels are credited with reducing carbon monoxide by 18 percent.

Utah escaped EPA requirements to convert fleets of more than 10 vehicles to burn clean fuels, although Utah County just squeezed by the requirement. Areas with a SIP design value for CO levels above 16.5 parts per million are required to convert fleets, while Provo's design value is 15.4 parts per million.

Voluntary Measures

Some Utah fleets are being converted to clean fuels voluntarily. Provo city, Geneva Steel, Mountain Fuel, and Utah Power & Light are a few of the organizations that have opted to convert some of their vehicles to clean fuels. Natural gas is the most widely used clean fuel to date. The conversion costs about $2,000 a car and takes up one-third of the trunk space for the larger tank, but boasts savings in engine wear-and-tear and fuel costs. A dispenser can be installed at home, as well as at a place of business.

Trip reduction is another way businesses can voluntarily reduce carbon monoxide levels. Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality F. Burnell Cordner said businesses can encourage employees to carpool or use mass transit. Another option is flex-time. Flex-time includes altering work hours to move commuter time away from rush hour to reduce the congestion that increases carbon monoxide levels, allowing workers to put in four 10-hour days and take every fifth day off.

EPA Mobile Sources expert Jeff Houk said a concerted effort of all companies, including small ones, can make significant difference in air quality. While certain organizations, like a police force, can't make trip reductions very workable, most other businesses may find employee trip reduction possible. Gov. Norm Bangerter told a group of business leaders in October that the average Utah household has nine vehicle trips a day. Houk said if every household eliminated one trip a day, carbon monoxide levels could be reduced by more than 10 percent.

Another options is to encourage employees to use mass transit to commute to and from work and then give them the use of a company fleet for work.

Some employers might consider letting work be done at home when it is feasible. Computer technology and electronic transfer of data can make a centralized work place obsolete.

Take the Bus - or the Van

The University of Utah opted into the bus-pass program at the beginning of fall quarter. The $512,000 price tag for the first year looked like a viable alternative to building a parking terrace, estimated to cost $8,000 to $10,000 a space. The U also hopes to reduce traffic through local neighborhoods with the program.

Employer cost for the free bus passes is calculated by Utah Transit Authority. UTA Public Relations Specialist Bill Barnes said the key factor is the business must buy passes for all their employees to get discounts that may be as high as 70 to 90 percent. "We calculate what the current bus rate is and try to make a projection of the number of people who will use the free passes. We try to charge enough to recover that revenue. For example, if 10 percent currently use the service, it might go up to 15 percent with free passes."

UTA has two programs to encourage van pools. In one program, a company can lease a van for a one-time $3,000 fee. Maintenance and insurance are covered by UTA. Requirements are that there is a designated driver and an alternate, and participants pay a commuter fee to UTA. The designated driver is allowed a certain number of personal miles on the van as well.

A second program provides interest-free loans for a personal vehicle that can transport at least seven commuters. The van is maintained and insured by the owner, who makes a commitment to use the van for commuting 70 percent of the time until the loan is repaid.

Does Business Need to Bother?

The Clean Air Amendments of 1990 give states the power to devise pollution reduction plans of their own choosing. Utah is committed to developing pollution control plans by consensus. Business owners and managers can be part of the process by speaking up at public hearings on the CO SIP in late winter and early spring. (Dates are not yet confirmed.) While Utah has the power to decide how best to reduce carbon monoxide, Congress gave EPA the authority to force specific changes if a state fails to meet compliance deadlines.

Chairman of the Utah County Clean Air Commission and Utah Valley Community College President Kerry Romesburg said that the more everyone can do to reduce carbon monoxide voluntarily, the less will have to be mandated. Some areas of the country have placed a moratorium on drive-through services like banking, fast food and dry cleaners. Southern California can serve as a warning to us. Los Angeles has the nation's worst carbon monoxide problem. Home owners are not allowed to use lighter fluid or gas-powered lawn mowers.

Provo, Orem and Brigham Young University united in October to sponsor a "car diet." For one week, everyone was asked to do without their car for two days. Nu Skin International participated in the car diet by encouraging employees to ride the bus for the first time.

Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co., located south of Provo, is looking at voluntarily reducing carbon monoxide emissions from their plant within the next two years. The plant melts scrap metal to produce ductile iron for making pipes. Superintendent of Maintenance and Engineering George Black said the pollution control devices are in the planning stages now, but Pacific States plans to implement the controls whether or not government regulation requires it.

"Every American expects and deserves to breathe clean air," Pres. George Bush said in support of the clean air amendments. All voluntary efforts to reduce carbon monoxide have the benefit of letting businesses, communities and the state meet standards in their own way.

PHOTO : Automobiles are the main source of carbon monoxide.

Free-lancer Pat Birkedahl lives in Provo, Utah.
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Title Annotation:Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 has Utah planning for 1992 deadline
Author:Birkedahl, Pat
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Employment at-will: dead in Utah?
Next Article:Recognition and renewal: a human resources strategy for the '90s.

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