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EPA PUSHES COUNTY TO COME CLEAN

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A top Environmental Protection Agency administrator's whirlwind tour of Utah County Tuesday brought the same message local officials have heard for months: Time to submit an acceptable pollution-control plan is running out.

William Yellowtail, EPA regional administrator, got a firsthand look at the valley labeled as a non-attainment area for carbon monoxide. He also was able to see how meteorology can affect air quality. The skies turned crystal clear after Tuesday's massive storm.But the Clean Air Act doesn't make provisions for weather conditions. And one day with clean air won't make up for previous violations of federal air-quality standards in years past.

"Push has come to shove, and we've got to deliver now," Yellowtail said.

The state must deliver a plan for reducing carbon monoxide pollution to the EPA by July 15 or face building restrictions and the loss of federal highway funds. A tentative plan calls for a revamped, centralized automobile emissions inspection and maintenance (I/M) program, continued use of oxygenated fuel in the winter and more restrictions on wood-burning stoves.

Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, brought Yellowtail to the county hoping to hear him utter the word "flexibility." Orton and Utah County commissioners believe the EPA can allow Utah some wiggle room because its current clean-air programs are successful. Yellowtail basically said he's bound by federal law and Utah has had time to comply.

"The Clean Air Act didn't happen yesterday. We shouldn't be surprised by the situation we find ourselves in," he said.

Yellowtail also had a chance to glance over Utah County's alternative plan for curtailing carbon monoxide. The nine-point proposal tightens up the current I/M program, eliminates oxygenated gasoline and changes traffic patterns in downtown Provo among other things.

"I have real doubts that it can be fleshed out and submitted in a timely manner," Yellowtail said. The plan drew rave reviews when the county unveiled it at a public hearing last month, but it has never officially been put out for public comment.

Furthermore, it lacks technical merit. "There is no data," said Marius Gedgaudas, EPA permits section chief in Denver.

Gedgaudas said the county is welcome to run the program concurrently with the proposed state plan, which EPA favors. County commissioners have said they do not intend to follow the state's plan.

While County Commissioner Gary Herbert didn't hear what he wanted to Tuesday, he said EPA officials have a better understanding of Utah Valley's situation. He said local officials are making headway and he expects further negotiations with the EPA.

"The jury is still out on some of this stuff, and we need to discuss it," he said.