Clean air advocates call for legislative action

Hundreds gathered in front of the State Capitol for the "Clean Air, No Excuses" rally.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Hundreds gathered in front of the State Capitol for the “Clean Air, No Excuses” rally. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

Air quality concerns drew hundreds to the Utah State Capitol Saturday to demand legislative action in mitigating air pollution along the Wasatch Front.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker joined several state representatives and leaders from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Communities for Clean Air and HEAL Utah in leading Saturday’s “Clean Air, No Excuses” rally.

Sister-rallies were simultaneously being held in St. George, Moab and Logan.  Logan in Cache Valley often experiences inversions even more severe than inversions in the Salt Lake Valley.

Bountiful Republican Rep. Becky Edwards announced to the crowd plans to reintroduce a bill allowing Utah to adopt stricter emissions standards than required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Edwards alluded to Utah politician’s favor for state’s rights as a reason why the bill should pass the republican-controlled legislature.

“We can solve our own problems in Utah,” said Edwards. “We can’t wait for the federal government to hand down solutions to us.”

Millcreek Democrat Rep. Patrice Arent, the leader of the Clean Air Caucus, announced that 17 bills will be introduced in the 2015 Legislative session meant at reducing air pollution.  Among the bills mentioned are bills that would replace older school buses, add more funding to state air quality monitoring and research, expand incentives for purchasing cleaner alternative fuel vehicles, allow municipalities to increase taxes for local mass transit expansion and increase funding to the Clean Air fund that would help households and business replace older, polluting equipment.

“We need clean air and can have no excuses,” said Arent.

The 2014 Legislature passed more “clean air” bills in the last session than what had been passed in the last decade combined.

“Lawmakers are hearing your voice,” said House Speaker Greg Hughes.  “I think it is intuitive to Utahns that we have a healthy climate, that we be good stewards of this environment.”

Hughes acknowledged that he and the republican leadership might not agree with all the demands from air quality groups, but that compromise is possible.  Hughes closed his remarks by promising the crowd that the legislature will “leave Utah better than they found it.”

Utah’s winter air inversions have been attributed to various health issues as well as potential negative economic impacts as the poor air quality discourages business to relocate to the state.

Around 60 percent of emissions along the Wasatch Front comes from cars and trucks.  A bill allowing local municipalities to let residents vote on a tax increase to expand mass transit failed to pass in the 2014 session but will be introduced again this session.  Local petition drives have also emerged calling for enhanced transit service making mass transit a viable option for more residents.

A “Clean Air Lobby Day” will be held the morning of February 9 at the State Office Building Auditorium.  The event will include a workshop on how citizens can advocate for clean air.  Email addresses of each state representative can be obtained at healutah.org/VoteCleanAir.

Many rally participants wore gas masks to protest air pollution.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Many rally participants wore gas masks to protest air pollution. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Hundreds of Utahn's turned out for the clean air rally.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Hundreds of Utahn’s turned out for the clean air rally. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Hundreds of Utahn's turned out for the clean air rally.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Hundreds of Utahn’s turned out for the clean air rally. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Bountiful Republican Rep. Becky Edwards speaks to the crowd. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Bountiful Republican Rep. Becky Edwards speaks to the crowd. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Rally participants gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to hear speakers address air quality.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Rally participants gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to hear speakers address air quality. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Rally participants gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to hear speakers address air quality.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
The “Smog Lake Singers” performed songs about air quality on the steps of the Capitol. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Clean Air Rally 1.31.1
Many demonstrators made signs calling for environmental protections. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Rally Participants listen to the speakers with downtown Salt Lake and the Salt Lake Temple in the background.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Rally Participants listen to the speakers while haze surrounds downtown Salt Lake and the Salt Lake Temple in the background. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
The Oquirrh Mountains in the background are less visible when pollution levels are high.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
A power station can be seen in the background.  The mountains along the Wasatch Front are less visible when pollution levels are moderate or high.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Protesters wearing face masks to demonstrate the health risks associated with air pollution.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Protesters wearing face masks to demonstrate the health risks associated with air pollution. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.