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BENNETT SAYS EPA CLOUDS DATA ON UTAH AIR

As the Environmental Protection Agency made its annual funding pitch Thursday, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, asked it to change some rules he says are making life tougher for Utahns.

And EPA Director Carol Browner said the agency is already considering that.As Browner made her 1997 funding request to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Bennett used it as an opportunity to complain about a rule he says makes air pollution in Utah appear to be worse than it really is.

Bennett complained that the EPA forces high-altitude areas to artificially inflate measured readings on PM-10 - air-pollutant particulate matter less than 10 microns in size - to adjust them to sea-level air pressure and constant temperatures.

Bennett said recent studies by the Desert Research Institute and the University of Utah both concluded separately that there is no scientific or health-related justification for such adjustments.

And Bennett said such current adjustments "cause us in the Salt Lake area to overstate our PM-10 concentrations by 8 percent in the winter and 14 percent in the summer."

Bennett added, "In other words, we are forced to report imaginary PM-10 numbers instead of real PM-10 numbers because the numbers have to be adjusted as if they were measured at sea level. Salt Lake City is about 4,200 feet above sea level."

Browner noted that several officials - including Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and members of Congress from throughout the Rocky Mountain states - had also complained about the adjustments.

So she said she has asked the EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Group to look at those requirements and the scientific papers that are critical of it. She said if it recommends changes, the EPA would be happy to comply.

Bennett also complained that several mayors have told him they are forced to waste money testing water systems for germs and other contaminants that simply do not exist west of the Mississippi River.

Bennett said the EPA should revise such rules. Browner said if mayors have evidence that some contaminants cannot exist in their area, they can apply for a waiver of normal requirements.

She pledged to have her staff work hard to help any mayors in that situation.