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Will Uinta Basin tribal lands be subject to pollution requirements?

EPA proposes to regulate industry emissions

Deseret News
Researchers with the 2011-2012 Uintah Basin Winter Ozone Study demonstrate the use of a balloon to collect air samples Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, at Utah State University Uintah Basin in Vernal. The $5.5-million study involves more than 30 scientists, who are trying to determine what causes high concentrations of ground-level ozone during the winter in the Uintah Basin.

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal regulators are proposing to invoke new controls on emissions from oil and gas production on tribal lands in the Uinta Basin to help solve the region’s pressing and unique problem with ozone in the winter months.

The proposal, announced Monday, is under public comment for 60 days and would affect industry activity on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation, which is not regulated by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality due to tribal status.

“This proposal will address a persistent air quality challenge in the Uinta Basin by reducing ozone-forming emissions,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “EPA’s plan achieves three important goals: improved air quality, continued resource development and a consistent set of requirements for operators across Indian country and state lands.”

The EPA said its proposal closely mirrors Utah’s existing requirements for pollution controls on state lands and will apply to owners and operators of new and existing sources located on Indian country lands within the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.

In moving forward with its proposed federal pollution plan, the EPA cited ozone levels that have exceeded the Clean Air Act standards several times in recent years.

In August of last year, the federal agency designated the basin as a nonattainment area for the 2015, 8-hour ozone standard. It estimates that existing oil and natural gas operations account for approximately 98% of volatile organic compound emissions in the basin. Approximately 78% of these sources are on Indian lands with no current emission control requirements, according to the EPA.

The Ute Indian Tribe’s governing body, the Tribal Business Committee, issued a statement in response to the EPA announcement, noting the plan was long-awaited.

“The Ute Indian Tribe is committed to effectively managing its airshed to protect the health and well-being of the Ute Indian Tribal membership while maintaining continued economic development on the reservation that allows the tribe to provide essential government services to its members,” it said.

Oil and natural gas activities emit pollutants that interact in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone. Ozone can lead to a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and people with lung diseases such as asthma.

The EPA says it will hold a public hearing to receive comments in person in Fort Duchesne on Feb. 6 at the Ute Indian Tribe Administration Offices Auditorium, 6964 E. 1000 South, from 1 to 5 p.m and again from 6 to 8 p.m.