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New clean air rules don’t worry Utahns

The skies here won’t get dirtier, state official says

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The northeastern states may be in an uproar over the loosening of clean air rules governing power plants, but in Utah it's clear skies and smooth sailing.

"The air is not going to get dirtier in Utah," said Dianne Nielson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "It will make it much easier for us to review applications for modifications to power plants."

Just hours before the Bush administration published the rules Tuesday, nine northeast states filed a lawsuit in federal court. The states say the rules, which concern a program known as New Source Review, are too lax. It will allow thousands of aging coal-fired power plants to do upgrades without having to install costly anti-pollution devices.

Utah air quality folks aren't too alarmed at the new rules, mostly because the state's air is less polluted than in the East, Nielson said.

"The effect is different in Utah," Nielson said. "For instance, power plants are newer here and burn cleaner coal and have far less emissions than the (eastern) coal-fired power plants."

This past winter, Utah issued 31 warnings of moderate air pollution. The Midwestern and Eastern states have weather patterns where inversions trap much of the pollution and cause smog problems year-round, not just in the summer and winter when inversions are more common in the West.

"If they maintain the status quo they still exceed air quality standards," Nielson explained. "They need programs that will help them improve so this rule for them doesn't do that. The best way to see improvements is to see more stringent programs."

The new rules have the New England and mid-Atlantic states up in arms.

"The Bush administration has taken an action that will bring more acid rain, more smog, more asthma and more respiratory disease to millions of Americans," Elliot Spitzer, the New York state attorney general and an organizer of the suit, told the Associated Press.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the rules were issued administratively rather than through legislation.

"We affirm that we strongly believe that these rules will be positive for the environment," Joe Martyak, a spokesman for the agency, told the Associated Press.

It's too soon to say what the impact will be, said Cheryl Heying, environmental planning manager for the Utah Division of Air Quality.

"I think it's very early in the process. The reaction is too soon. It's one of those rules that is so complex you have to read it, apply it, then see what's happening," Heying said. "It is too soon to overreact."

E-mail: donna@desnews.com