Arizona, Utah Air Quality Leads To Lawsuit Threats From Environmental Groups

On Thursday, a notice of intent to sue was filed by a coalition of environmental groups, along with warning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Utah and Arizona must be held accountable for missing deadlines to submit plans to clean up air pollution.

The notice requests Arizona be held accountable for missing its deadline for an air quality plan for Pinal County.

EPA spokesman Richard Mylott didn’t return an email and phone call seeking comment Thursday. His message said he was out of the office because of the government shutdown. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Erin Jordan declined comment, saying she was unable to comment on potential litigation. 

Led by the Center for Biological Diversity, the groups filed the notice as the initial step to legally challenge the EPA, said Robert Ukeiley, the organization’s senior attorney. The EPA now has two months to act or a lawsuit will be filed. 

The announcement came just as a new layer of dirty air settled in over Salt Lake City in the latest winter inversion, a phenomenon in Utah’s urban corridor caused by weather and geography.

Inversions hover over Salt Lake City as cold, stagnant air settles in the bowl-shaped mountain basins, trapping automotive and other emissions that have no way of escaping to create a brown, murky haze. 

Warnings from doctors state that breathing the polluted air can cause lung problems and other health concerns, especially for pregnant women and people with respiratory issues.

If the 2030 Winter Olympics are awarded to Salt Lake City, a new flood of scrutiny could be on the horizon for the state’s air quality concerns. The International Olympic Committee is expected to select a host city in a few years. 

Deeda Seed, a field campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, said residents are grateful that many Utah officials take the issue seriously, but the results are lacking.

The coalition that also includes the Center for Environmental Health and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment wants the EPA to issue a formal notice that Utah and Arizona missed the deadlines. 

“This is really about holding the EPA accountable for the job it’s supposed to do to protect our air,” Seed said. “This about bringing attention to this issue. This is a critical time for us.”

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