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POLLUTION POLL DOES LITTLE TO CLEAR AIR

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Utah County residents believe the valley has a serious air pollution problem. Nothing new there.

And they think the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be more rigorous in finding ways to reduce pollution. That's surprising considering the way local politicians and some vocal detractors constantly bash the EPA.Now for the rub.

Residents don't want much to do with two control measures the EPA says will improve Utah Valley's air quality - oxygenated fuel and centralized automobile emissions testing.

All that according to a Dan Jones & Associates survey of 401 people conducted for the Deseret News Dec. 5 to Dec. 10.

What does it mean? "More than anything, it is another expression of the conflicting nature of this issue," said Russell Roberts, director of the state Division of Air Quality. "People know the air is dirty. Apparently, they don't want to accept what the solutions are."

Says Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert, "I think it probably reflects in some ways a lack of faith in the EPA programs, yet people are concerned about air quality."

Nevertheless, the annual four-month oxyfuel period is probably here to stay, and a new emissions inspection and maintenance program is slowly on its way. The county submitted a plan to EPA committing it to start the program by July 1995, although that now looks ambitious.

Utah County has one of the most serious carbon monoxide problems in the country, according to the EPA. Cars are the major source of CO pollution. But Brigham Young University chemical engineer Cal Bartholomew has described it as a "micro, micro" problem.

Provo/Orem is non-attainment of federal CO standards; Utah County's in the same position for fine particulate, or PM10, pollution.

Jones' poll found that 77 percent of residents agree with EPA that the valley has a very or somewhat serious air pollution problem. Only 23 percent don't think it's a big deal.

County officials argue the air is much cleaner now than 12 years ago. In 1982, federal CO standards were exceeded 69 times, compared to once so far this year.

Officially, the county is a "moderate" polluter, according to EPA, but faces a downgrade to "serious" if it doesn't comply with the Clean Air Act by the end of next year. "The air is getting cleaner and they're going to redesignate us as dirtier. That's what's frustrating," Herbert says.

Even with the anti-federal-government sentiment that abounds in the county, 56 percent of residents in Jones' poll say the EPA should be much or somewhat more strict in its efforts to curb air pollution. Another 33 percent said the EPA should ease up.

The winter use of gasoline containing ethanol, a grain alcohol derived from corn, and methyl ter-ti-ary butyl ether (MTBE), a natural gas product that is an octane booster, drew much opposition, according to the survey. Studies have shown oxyfuels cut carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles by up to 20 percent.

Sixty-five percent strongly or somewhat oppose using oxyfuel each November through February, while 26 percent strongly favor or somewhat favor it.

The EPA refused earlier this month refused to grant the county a six-week waiver of oxyfuel to determine whether it elevates fine-particulate pollution, saying such a study would be inconclusive.

Mark Walker, vice president of Pleasant Grove-based Walker Oil Co., said grumbling about the fuel gumming up engines and reducing gas mileage has withered since the program started in 1992. But that doesn't mean the fuel isn't causing engine trouble. People have lost the will to complain, he says.

"What we've got, we got and we can't do anything about it," he says is the attitude people have. Some simply buy gas outside Utah County, the only county in the state where oxyfuel is required because Provo/Orem violated federal CO standards.

Lee Allen, executive director of Citizens for Environmental Common Sense, hopes people don't adopt the same attitude about centralized I/M. He says the program won't do much to change what the county's overstated pollution problem.

"Our problem is not really as bad as people have been made to believe," he said.

Under the "enhanced" I/M program, vehicles built after 1980 would have to be taken to one of several test centers for an emissions inspection on a device that simulates actual driving. Should the vehicle fail the test, the owner would have to drive it to another location for repairs. Mechanics will not be allowed to test and repair cars in the same shop.

Jones found that 54 percent of county residents strongly or somewhat oppose the program, while 29 percent strongly or somewhat favor it.

Critics say it will be costly to automobile owners and inconvenient. Also, several other states are questioning its effectiveness and trying to negotiate with EPA for different approaches.

Utah County can't meet federal clean-air standards without it. Roberts said enhanced I/M won't be as expensive or as onerous as people think. Utah can learn from the difficulties other states have had implementing the program, he said.

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Additional Information

Utah County poll

How serious is the air pollution problem in Utah Valley?

Very serious 35 percent

Somewhat serious 42 percent

Not too serious 17 percent

Not serious at all 6 percent

Don't know 1 percent

Should the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency become more or less strict in efforts to curb air pollution in Utah Valley?

Much more strict 24 percent

Somewhat more strict 32 percent

Stay the same 7 percent

Somewhat less strict 18 percent

Much less strict 15 percent

Don't know 5 percent

Would you say you favor or oppose the following EPA pollution-control measures:

Centralized automobile emissions testing

Strongly favor 8 percent

Somewhat favor 21 percent

Somewhat oppose 21 percent

Strongly oppose 33 percent

Don't know 16 percent

Oxygenated fuel

Strongly favor 6 percent

Somewhat favor 20 percent

Somewhat oppose 24 percent

Strongly oppose 41 percent

Don't know 8 percent

Poll conducted December 5-10, 1994. Margin of error +/- 5% on interviews of 401 registered voters. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. Copyrigh 1994 Deseret News. Dan Jones & Associates, an independent organization founded in 1980, polls for the Deseret News and KSL. Its clients include other organizations and some political candidates.