The Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, is one of several coal-fired power plants that affects air quality in the Four Corners region. Local residents will be demonstrating for clean air during a Jan. 31 rally at Swanny City Park. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

In a show of solidarity, and to voice their own concerns about local and regional air quality, some Moab-area residents are holding a Utah Clean Air Rally on Saturday, Jan. 31 at Swanny City Park.

The event, which is set to run from noon to 1 p.m., will coincide with a similar rally on the steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

“The rally is being held to demonstrate statewide support for legislation and personal stewardship for cleaner air,” said Roslynn Brain, assistant professor and sustainable communities extension specialist at Utah State University – Moab.

Ingrid Graffee, executive director of the Salt Lake City-based Utah Moms for Clean Air, said that air quality is a concern for people throughout the state, not just those along the smog-plagued Wasatch Front. Graffee said she’s grateful for those in Moab who are willing to take up the issue.

Utahns rate air quality high on a list of values, and it is important to let legislators know this, she said.

“Many of the legislators that come from the Wasatch Front are well-educated about this issue,” Graffee said. “But we need representatives from other parts of the state to become aware of this, as well.”

In addition to influencing legislators, Brain stressed personal accountability. She said that everyone has the ability to affect change and that by making shifts in our daily behavior, residents can improve the situation. She cited choices such as riding a bike to work instead of driving, or composting yard waste instead of burning it.

“I believe the town of Moab is motivated and passionate enough about air quality to help improve our air as a whole,” she said.

Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi echoed Brain’s statements.

“I think it’s important to emphasize, over and over again, that pollution is a byproduct of our consumption, by lifestyle, by you and me,” she said. “We should take ownership of our part in this.”

Ershadi also acknowledged that personal choices are limited and that changes need to be made on a societal and governmental level.

“Many of us can choose to shrink our energy footprint, but with an infrastructure made for the personal automobile, in a growing global economy driven by fossil fuels, personal choice will not be enough,” she said. “There has to be systemic change.”

Ershadi advocated changes that make communities more conducive to walking and biking, as well as efforts to improve public transit. Homes and businesses should be more energy efficient, she said, and industry and energy production should also be held to cleaner standards.

“We may not know how to get past all of our problems,” she said. “But we know what steps we need to take in the right direction.”

Graffee said that regional haze is also an issue, and that this should be of particular concern to the residents of Moab and southeastern Utah – a region known for its national parks and grand vistas.

“This is an important piece,” she said. “The area relies so heavily on tourism due to the beautiful scenery of the national parks.”

In 1977, Canyonlands National Park was designated as a Class 1 air quality area, giving it the highest level of protection under the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regional haze regulations require states to establish goals to improve visibility in Class 1 air quality areas.

According to a study done for the U.S. Department of Energy, air quality in Canyonlands is affected by coal fired power plants in the region, copper smelters in Arizona and smog from the Los Angeles Basin. Polluted air from along the Wasatch Front also makes its way into the region during winter months when winds often blow from the north.

Moab resident Wayne Hoskisson said that he has noticed a change in the visibility during his 14 years in the community.

“The view from Dead Horse Point and Grand View Point seemed infinite but now often reminds me of the blue and blurred photographs of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina,” he said.

Hoskisson is also concerned about the presence of ground-level ozone.

“Breathing in ozone is a little like breathing in molecule-sized fires,” he said.

Clean air has been on the minds of many Moab residents since the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) presented its findings from an ozone study to the Moab City Council on Jan. 13. The study was undertaken between late July and October of last year and monitored ground-level ozone pollution from a site at Grand County High School.

During the three-month period, the highest level of ozone concentration reached 64 parts per billion (ppb) on Aug. 9, 2014. This falls below the current EPA standard of 75 ppb, but state regulators acknowledged that levels weren’t measured during late spring and early summer, the months when concentrations tend to be highest.

According to DAQ monitoring manager Bo Call, the 10 highest days of ozone concentration, measured at a monitoring station in Canyonlands National Park, were all before late July.

“In the southern part of the state and in desert areas (higher ozone concentrations) occur in May, June, and July,” Call told the council.

Moab resident Bill Love said that it was important to have data from those months, and that more money should be invested in monitoring Moab’s air quality.

“The (county) council found thousands of dollars to study the Book Cliffs Road for the extraction industry,” Love said. “They should be able to find funds for air monitors.”

Call said that Moab doesn’t currently have any air pollution problems. However, if lower standards proposed by the EPA are implemented, the city, as well as Canyonlands, may be unable to comply, especially during the spring and early summer months, he said.

“There are two issues at play,” Call said. “One is visibility and one is health impact. For visibility, a very small amount of really small particles in the air can make the air look pretty polluted. That doesn’t mean there is a violation of a standard, but it could still look bad.”

Residents plan Jan. 31 demonstration at Swanny City Park

“I believe the town of Moab is motivated and passionate enough about air quality to help improve our air as a whole.”