SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's Republican governor is known for calling on citizens to help solve government's intractable problems.
On Thursday, it was Utah's chronically bad air. Under pressure to avoid federal Clean Air Act sanctions, Gov. Gary Herbert showed up at a Salt Lake City house to offer tips on lawnmowers, gasoline containers and water-based paints.
"Everybody has yard work," said Herbert, who let a homeowner explain how some lawnmowers burn fuel more cleanly. The governor added, "That's right. A lot of us have old equipment. We'd like people to think about replacing their garden equipment."
Herbert, an industry-friendly governor who prefers voluntary action over mandates, also declared May "Clean Air Month." His pitch came a day after the Utah Air Quality Board said its plans to achieve federal air-quality standards were short on required emissions reductions.
People can help close the gap by, for example, spending $5 for a fume-free gasoline container, Herbert said.
"That's the way it should be," said Glen McBride, who opened his garage for Herbert's visit. "Everyone can contribute in their own way to reduce pollutants in the air. Our governor calls on citizens to help solve problems."
State regulators said they were 22 tons short of reducing everyday emissions across the Salt Lake-Ogden region by a required 227 tons a day. The policymakers are running out of ideas to satisfy federal standards, and their plans are several months overdue. Now they're promising to deliver them by July.
"We're not there yet," said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. "We're digging deep" for more ways to reduce pollution, including "those smaller emissions the governor talked about today."
Herbert also has urged people to leave cars behind for mass transit, to little effect. Nearly a year ago, he signed an executive order that he said has reduced idling time in the state's fleet of 7,300 vehicles by 7 percent.
Utah's air was bad enough last winter to prompt three rallies on Utah's Capitol Hill. Northern Utah had 22 days of toxic air as weather systems trapped murky air close to the ground. More recently, Utah earned "F'' grades from the American Lung Association.
Tailpipe emissions account for more than half of Utah's pollution problem, but Herbert and regulators have shown no interest in mandating cleaner gasoline or more efficient cars. Officials say they've already wrung emissions reductions from industrial smokestacks.
Now, regulators are targeting aerosol-powered consumer products like hairspray, ordering more environmentally friendly propellants. They have acted to ban the sale of wood-burning boilers for home heating. The board is also imposing new emissions controls on hamburger joints and auto-body shops.
It won't be enough, regulators say. The environmental scientists at work say federal clean-air standards could be nearly impossible to achieve in a state where mountain geography and weather systems can defeat most efforts.
"They've been saying all along it's a tough problem to solve," said Stephen C. Sands, chairman of the air quality board. "It certainly is a challenging standard to meet. The analysis is still underway. It seems like they are on track to come up with some solutions."