Better UTAH Beat Episode 48 – May 14, 2013

Last week the world witnessed another record fall by the wayside as earth-warming carbon dioxide levels reached an all time high of over 400 parts per million. Its not exactly the kind of record we should be breaking.

In an interview with the New York Times, one scientist, describing the feat, said, “It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster.”

Another said, “I feel like the time to do something was yesterday.”

And yet another said, “It’s scary.”

And these people aren’t dummies either. They are top scientists at places like Yale, Columbia, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. There’s near-unanimous consensus that climate change is accelerating and that that acceleration is caused by us.

In fact, the last time the earth saw this much carbon dioxide in the air was during the Pliocene epoch, nearly 3,000,000 years ago and long before humans started walking the earth. Then, temperatures were approximately 4 fahrenheit degrees warmer than they are now, and ocean levels were approximately 80 feet higher. As you can imagine, its not exactly an epoch that would well suit our current civilization. But unless carbon dioxide rates decrease, it’s where we are headed.

This concern for decreasing the amount of carbon in the air (by decreasing the amount of carbon we take out of the earth) is fueling a drive for new EPA standards called Tier III Motor Vehicle and Emission and Fuel Standards. The standards, not yet adopted by the EPA, would cut pollutants like NOx, Carbon Monoxide, and VOCs by 30% by 2030. Not only would these cuts keep carbon out of the air by reducing vehicle emissions, but, for Utah, it would also go a long way to reducing the harmful pollution Utah sees every winter and summer.

The new Tier III standards takes a more comprehensive approach to curbing pollution by considering fuels and engines as part of a single system. That means the new regulations would require changes in the way fuel is produced and engines are manufactured. The standards require a two-thirds reduction in sulfur, bigger catalytic converters, heat pumps to avoid increased start up emissions on cold days, and better designed fuel tanks and lines.

The benefits of these rather simple changes will be enormous for Utah. Right now, its estimated that 57% of the pollution build-up during the winter is caused by motor vehicles. But instituting the Tier III standards would be like removing 33 million vehicles from the road. The benefits for our health and economy are even greater. The new standards would:

  • Prevent more than 2,500 premature deaths annually

  • Prevent more than 3.3 million days of missed work and school

  • Produce between 8.5 and 22.5 billion dollars annually in economic and health care benefits

And the good news is that we can get these benefits at very reasonable costs. Reducing the sulfur in our gasoline is less than one cent per gallon, and the cost to vehicles will be between $125 to $150 — or a month’s worth of gas. These changes are cheap enough to afford while the consequences are too costly to ignore.

Climate change is accelerating, and the results for Utah will likely be worse inversions. However, adopting the EPA’s Tier III standards would be an effective way of both reducing our carbon footprint and improving the likelihood of breathing clean air for years to come.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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