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Realistic goals sought for control of Utah greenhouse emissions

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On a day when President Bush cautioned senators about the high cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., Utah's state environmental quality boss outlined an "ambitious" process of reducing climate-changing pollution locally that will be realistic, based on effectiveness and economics rather than an "aspirational" goal.

Utah Department of Environmental Quality director Rick Sprott said California is setting "clean air" standards that are more stringent than federal standards, but that they're not enforced or they're without any enforceable mechanism.

"So, what's the point?" Sprott asked on the phone about setting tough standards and goals. "They're out there, they're symbolic, but they have no real meaning."

Sprott passed out a paper Monday to a group gathered at DEQ offices to talk about recent research on the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Sprott referred to what will be Utah's goal as a policy target.

"It is not a regulatory cap or a legal mandate of any kind," he said. "It is intended to guide policy decisions and to be updated to reflect major changes."

Sprott said some states are setting goals without analysis, "rigor" or a plan on how to reach the goals, which end up being too ambitious.

"They kind of find themselves in a tough spot when it comes time to deliver," he said.

In Washington, a Senate climate bill that seeks a 70 percent reduction in burning fossil fuels and various greenhouse gases over the next forty years is targeting factories and refineries, as well as other similar industries. But Bush said Monday the bill would put $6 trillion in "new costs" on the country's economy, and his spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president plans to veto the climate bill in its current form.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has authorized a task force to look for ways the state can reach a goal of getting 20 percent of its energy needs from clean renewable sources by 2025. This year Huntsman signed the Energy Resource and Carbon Emission Reduction Initiative, which, starting in 2025, will require that 20 percent of adjusted sales from electrical corporations and municipal utilities come from renewable resources "if cost effective."

Last year Huntsman signed Utah on to the Western Climate Initiative. As part of joining, Utah is expected to come up with greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, which Sprott said Monday should be released by the end of this month.

Utah DEQ recently used Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions to evaluate what Sprott said Monday are greenhouse gas reduction options that "had the most support, greatest reduction potential, and/or least cost."

Sprott said that in addition to what federal and state officials are planning, more meaningful reduction actions need to take place, such as running lower emitting coal-fired power plants and requiring more "stringent" automobile emission and mileage standards.

For those who have gotten "uptight and bent out of shape" about how the goals might become a costly mandate, Sprott said, "It's none of that. It's important we have a goal or a target to help us understand how difficult it is to make meaningful reductions.

"It's not going to be easy," he added. "It's going to be tough. We don't want to just do wishful thinking — I think that would be a major mistake."

Contributing: Associated Press

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com