Bryce Bird: Within the Department of Environment Quality, the Division of Air Quality Is

Bryce Bird: Within the Department of Environment Quality, the Division of Air Quality Is

Bryce Bird

Bryce Bird: Within the Department of Environment Quality, the Division of Air Quality is responsible for regulation of air quality within the entire state of Utah. I’ve personally been involved with the Division of Air Quality for over 21 years. Worked my way up from a compliance inspector, through management, and then ultimately was appointed as Director of the Division of Air Quality in 2011.

Bryce Bird: The Department of Environmental Quality had a statutory mandate to protect both the citizens of Utah and also the environment of Utah from the harmful effects of pollution. As it pertains to the Division of Air Quality it’s focused on air pollution.

And so we regulate large industrial sources. We regulate or coordinate transportation activities throughout the state, and then monitor to see what the levels are and provide heath information and warnings to the public. And so the purpose of the division is to make sure that we are meeting the federal air quality standards as well as protecting the entire state from the harmful effects or impacts from air pollution.

Bryce Bird: So the Clean Air Act was established by Congress to establish several things. One being a national level playing field as we address air pollution to make sure that all areas of the country are equally protected. One of the major provisions of the Clean Air Act are the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These standards are established by the Environmental Protection Agency, and they’re established to protect human health from the impacts of air quality with an adequate margin of safety.

And also under the Clean Air Act, these standards are revised or reviewed every five years to make sure that they are still protective of public health. The result of this process has been a trend of more protective air quality throughout the country. And whenever an area does not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, states are required to develop plans or state implementation plans in order to improve air quality so that it meets that national standard.

Bryce Bird: So the air quality standards are set based on health studies, and so they look at populations and look at the current level of air pollution and then tie that to health outcomes. Some of the simplest ones are things like asthma medication usage or hospitalization for respiratory problems. And from these large health studies and these -- throughout the country they’ve established what level of air quality is protective of human health. As more information is learned about air quality, of course the standards have become more protective because we are understanding more and better able to detect the connection between air quality and human health.

Bryce Bird: When we talk about our area, one of the things we have to focus on is growth. That whenever we put more population into our valleys, for instance, along with that comes all the emissions or the pollution that’s associated with that population. And some of those are easy to see. We have large power plants, refineries and things like that that produce large emissions. But what we find is some of the most -- or the biggest connection with population is actually in goods and services that we use on a daily basis. Everything from cooking our food to goods and services, such as auto manufacturing or auto repair, wood furniture manufacturing and home heating, business heating.

These all contribute to what we determine as area sources, and those are tied directly to population. So as population increases, those emissions increase as well.

Bryce Bird: No. The transportation sector has its own segregation or sector of air pollution. When we talk about automobiles, of course, one of the challenges we have is the way we grow as well, that because we’re constrained in these valleys, as we grow we tend to grow north and south and then further west.

And so we actually see vehicle miles traveled on a daily basis growing at twice the rate of population. That is a particulate challenge for us that some other areas of the country don’t have. We, again, tend to grow out, and so we’re producing more vehicle miles traveled for every new person that we bring into the valley.

Bryce Bird: So an inversion is actually a meteorological term. Under normal atmospheric mixing, we start with warm temperatures at the ground, and then as we move up a mountain range, for instance, the air gets colder at the top of the mountains. This is not a concept that is lost on people. Of course we see the snowcapped mountains, that the snow stays up there longer because it’s normally colder as you go up in elevation.

An inverted condition describes a meteorological condition where that’s reversed. That instead of being warmer at the bottom and colder at the top, there’s warm air that moves in over the valley, and when the warm air moves over the top of the valley, that basically puts a lid on the valley that doesn’t allow mixing or ventilation out of the valleys. So an inversion just represents an inverted atmosphere from what is normal.

Bryce Bird: So mountain valleys are one of the requirements for the inversions that we have. That when we have -- the walls of the valley constrain, the mixing in that valley. We also see that inversions are always worse when there’s snow on the ground. And so the typical scenario is we have a snowstorm that moves through, deposits a large amount of snow at the valley floor. Then a high pressure or warm air moves over the valley, and because there’s that cold air at the bottom of the floor and the sunlight can’t heat up the ground and start that mixing, that really sets up that very stable and stagnant atmosphere that leads to our temperature inversions.

Bryce Bird: So when we talk about regulation on industry, of course industries are in the practice of making as much money as possible with as few inputs as possible. Really where the Clean Air Act has come in is requiring two major impacts. One is that as new sources or new industries are brought into an area, for instance, they have to meet the best available technology. And so if there’s somebody that has found a way to produce the same goods with lower emissions, a new industry has to meet that standard.

For older companies there’s no trigger for that except when an area is not meeting the federal air quality standards. And at that point, we have the ability to go in there and retroactively apply some of these newly available controls to those industries. The result is that industries have been asked to reduce their emissions. They’ve been asked to identify technologies, and then we put that in rule where they’re required to meet those technology requirements in order to reduce emissions.

Bryce Bird: So with a number of the companies, the large industrial sources here along the Wasatch Front, were in place before the Clean Air Act was put in place. Strictly those would be considered grandfathered sources. As we’ve developed our quality plans, we’ve identified many of those large industrial sources as the major component or contributor to our poor air quality. And so we’ve had the ability to identify both the source of the emissions, and then identify controls.

One example of that is with the Kennecott smelting operation. Back in the ’70s and early ‘80s, that operation was a very old and frankly dirty technology. And as part of the state plans for both sulfur dioxide and the PM10 portion of the particulate matter, we were able to identify a control strategy to reduce the sulfur emissions associated with that. And so we see thousands of tons of sulfur that used to go into the air that is now captured as part of their double-contact acid plant that’s been installed at the refinery so that that results in producing the same product, but also at a lower emissions rate.

Bryce Bird: And with relation to the sulfur emissions at Kennecott, because they’re capturing a marketable product, we see railcars now of sulfuric acid. Again, this used to be emitted into the air as sulfur dioxide, is now being captured and marketed as a product to other industries.

Bryce Bird: When we look at emission, we really focus on the times where we have problems. So the most recent planning effort has been focused on our winter inversion situation. And so what we’re focusing on is a typical winter day, or so the emissions that are associated with our economy on a typical winter day.

We focus on three sectors, the first being the transportation sector, so cars, trucks, large semis that occupy our highways. That is actually the largest sector of emissions on that typical winter day resulting in over 50 percent of the emissions we’re most concerned about.

The second sector is what we term area sources, and those are emissions that are associated with where we live and how we live. Everything from cooking our food to goods and services to home heating. And that is responsible for a good portion of our air pollution. Actually, it’s the second largest category.

And then the third is what we consider the point source, or the typical smokestack industries. Those emissions are associated with our larger industrial sources, those that emit over 100 tons per year of a criteria pollutant. That is actually the smallest category, but it’s still important that we focus on those emissions as well. Many of our past planning efforts relied entirely on the large industrial sources and reductions there, and then the transportation sector getting cleaner and things like emissions testing programs on vehicles.

With this current planning effort, we are focusing really a more focused effort on the area sources. And so looking at 23 new rules that cover everything from wood burning, to even use of home aerosols, and things like that to make sure that we’re providing the cleanest emissions possible.

Bryce Bird: The common misconceptions are first that air quality is getting worse. I think that as people we tend to remember last year most vividly, but maybe don’t remember what happened 10 or 15 years ago.

Fortunately, we have the ability to look back at our air-monitoring network, which has actually been in place in the valley since the late ‘50s, and without question we see better air quality on average today than we did at any time in our past. And so air quality is getting better. Then we’ve been focusing on emissions reductions, and both in the tons of emissions we produce on a daily basis and the actual air quality that we monitor we can see improvement.

The second misconception is that it’s always somebody else. What we’re finding through this current planning effort is that clearly the transportation sector and the area source sector are responsible for the vast majority of emissions. And in fact, we did some sensitivity analysis that showed that even if we shut off all the emissions from our large industrial sources that we couldn’t meet the current levels of pollution that would show attainment with the standard.

And so they are the smallest of the three categories, and in fact though we are focusing on those and getting reductions from those, that that’s not enough. We have to focus on the others as well.

Bryce Bird: So when we talk about the transportation sector, really we need to focus on a couple main points. First of all, driving less. Whenever we’re going down the road and using gasoline, of course that results in emissions. One of the things that we’ve found during this current planning effort is that there are parts of the driving cycle that are more impacting our air quality, and one of those being cold-starts.

And so typically during the wintertime, of course when you go out in the morning, you start up your car the first time, the pollution controls on that car are not up and functioning for two or three minutes, that start of the drive cycle.

In fact, the majority of the emissions from the average trip in our valley come during that cold-start sequence of the car. And so as we talk about driving less and driving smarter, we need to focus on not taking that first trip of the day. If you wanted to really reduce emissions, we can use public transportation, we can telework, we can find other ways to get to work, we can carpool, and that will have the biggest benefit when it relates to our transportation emissions.

Bryce Bird: When we talk about the cold-start emissions, it is starting from a cold car and getting up to warm car. If that happens in the morning or the afternoon, it doesn’t matter as much. But we know that for instance if you drive to work and then the car sits for four hours and then you get out and drive again to go to lunch, that’s another cold-start cycle. And then you come back from lunch, you go to leave at the end of the day, that’s another cold-start cycle at the end of the day.

And perhaps if you go out for one errand in the evening, there’s another cold-start cycle. So if we focus on that and understand that, we can plan our trips differently. We could take a lunch to work, for instance, and eliminate one of those cold starts that day. We could stop off on the way home to do an errand rather than starting and leaving our house to run the errand through what we term “trip chaining.”

Making sure that we start the car once in that cold-start cycle, use it as much as possible before it cools down, park it again. And that’s how we can really see a big benefit to the air quality in our area.

Bryce Bird: On average when we look at the cold starts, it’s about 60 percent of the trip emissions come during that cold-start phase. And so our average trip in the valley on a typical winter day is about 30 miles. And so on that 30-mile trip, 60 percent of the emissions come during the cold start of that vehicle.

Bryce Bird: It’s about two to three minutes, so the first couple of miles of that trip. It’s also interesting when we talk about using public transportation and other things that if we can focus on maybe not driving to the train stop, but having somebody pick us up or carpooling to get there we can even see a bigger impact.

Of course, that’s not saying that we should just give up. Once we’ve started cold it’s okay to drive the rest of the day because it’s not all of the emissions. There’s still about 40 percent of that trip that comes from driving down the road, and so that certainly is important. But when we look at what makes the biggest difference, we really need to focus and educate people on the importance of that first start of the day, the cold start.

Bryce Bird: When we look at the effectiveness of our past planning efforts, I think one great example is when we look at PM10. We developed in the late ‘80s a plan to address a particulate matter, PM10. At that time, on a typical winter we’d have maybe 20 days a year that we were violating that standard. That plan went into effect. Some of the key components were focused on the large industrial sources, and then also the emissions testing programs for vehicles. And that plan was fully implemented in 1993, and since that time we’ve had no days during the winter where we’ve exceeded that standard.

Bryce Bird: So our winter PM2.5 or fine particulate matter problem comes from the emissions that we emit on a daily basis. It’s interesting that what we found as part of this planning process is that the majority of the particles we find on the filter are not emitted as particles, but they actually form in the atmosphere during our inversion conditions. And so there’s atmospheric chemistry that drives that reaction. So when we collect our filters, about 25 to 30 percent of the particles on the filters start out as a particle. The other 70 to 75 percent are formed as a secondary pollutant and are predominantly made up of ammonium nitrate. And so as we’ve focused on developing a plan, we looked at the chemical reactions, or the chemical reactions that we cold effect as part of our emission reductions to turn off that chemical pathway to form this fine particulate matter.

Bryce Bird: Over the past 40 years we’ve really focused on air pollution along the Wasatch Front. But during that time, we’ve also had air monitoring available throughout the state. And recently we’ve identified an issue in the Uintah Basin that is really unique to a couple basins here out in the west, and that is the winter formation of ozone.

We’ve talked about our winter particulate problem here along the Wasatch Front, but we haven’t mentioned much about ozone. Ozone is typically an urban air pollution problem during hot summer days. And the usual scenario for forming ozone is temperatures above 90 degrees, stagnant conditions and then lots of urban emissions to drive that formation.