SALT LAKE CITY — The state's top air quality regulator says if every home in Salt Lake County had an ultralow polluting natural gas water heater, it would be the same as eliminating all the nitrogen oxide emitted by the five area refineries combined.
"We identified this as something that would be practical for Utah with the public health benefits and the economic benefits that still allows us to grow," said Bryce Bird, head of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's air quality division.
Bird spoke Wednesday in favor of HB250 sponsored by Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, which grants authority to the Utah Air Quality Board to enact limits on the amount of pollutants from natural gas water heaters.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, and if approved by the full Utah Legislature, the Air Quality Board could enact limits that would be effective as early as July 2018.
That sort of delayed approach would allow manufacturers and big box retailers to comply with the requirements and also give the public time to adjust to the new law. Homeowners would not have to purchase a low pollution emitting water heater except as they replace their old one.
Redd's bill is a response to action last year when there was opposition by the Utah Homebuilders Association and other industry groups to a new rule passed by the Air Quality Board invoking the same requirement on water heaters. The association opposed the rule because it meddled with state building codes, something it said lies only within the authority of the Utah Legislature.
The new rule was essentially killed, but this legislative proposal was endorsed by the association because it expressly grants the Air Quality Board the authority to set emission limits on new water heaters that are purchased.
Another bill working its way through the Legislature on updating building codes deals with contractor requirements on the type of natural gas water heaters that can be installed, while this bill addresses the type sold at retail stores and purchased by homeowners.
Redd said the majority of water heaters in homes get there via purchases from consumers — 80 percent — as opposed to those that require a building permit in new home construction.