Gov. Gary Herbert missed a chance to give Utah’s air quality mess the crisis attention it deserves.
He said some of the right things in his State of the State speech Wednesday, but the time and emphasis spent on the gunk we breathe had an oh-by-the-way feel.
The governor rightfully crowed about the state’s economic recovery and development story. He also focused on education, as has every other Utah governor in living memory. Fair enough.
Utah recently endured another of those air inversions that trap pollutants in the Wasatch Front valleys. Nothing new. But with more pollution each time, we’re now racking up “worst air in the nation” achievements and drawing national attention to the damaging and even deadly health problem.
That’s why I was hoping Herbert would announce bold initiatives to attack the air quality slide. The nation’s worst air stank up the state throughout the tourism-heavy Sundance festival, for cough’s sake. That’s an economic development issue in itself if we’re not careful. What movie tourist really wants to spend a week or two in Utah breathing yellow stench that cuts months or years off the life span?
Late in his speech, the governor made a general call for all Utahns to do their part to help cut air pollution, things like carpooling, driving less, using mass transit and overall being more energy efficiency conscious. He also praised the Aggie Bus at Utah State University, an all-electric, emissions-free innovation on campus.
Absent, though, was any sort of direct challenge to industry to carry its weight in the air pollution situation. Rio Tinto Kennecott, for example, a major producer of air pollutants, may have warranted a mention, even if only a recognition that the company has taken some steps to cut emissions.
It’s obvious the governor is aware of the situation and has taken some steps to address it. But it’s not enough, has a weak public profile and in the end doesn’t promise to put a serious dent in the sludge we must breathe.
A Utah doctors’ group has been making waves, and enemies among the industrialized and political establishment, with strident calls for major action to curb pollution. Here are some of the group’s recent recommendations, which seem to be falling on deaf ears:
“We advocate that all new electric energy supplies for the state of Utah should come from renewable resources.
“We want state-of-the-art controls on existing plants
“A reduction of the speed limit to 55mph when air pollution exceeds EPA limits
“Public subsidies for mass transit, free ridership and expanded service
“A 20% emissions reduction strategy by the Air Quality Board
“State funding for more extensive environmental monitoring;
“Strategies to increase public awareness about the negative health effects of air pollution
“Encouragement for school districts to use school buses that runs on alternative fuels
“Policies that prohibit school buses should from idling in school yards while waiting for students
“The establishment of air pollution warning indices that promote the safety of pregnant women and their unborn children.
“A goal of attaining 25% renewable energy sources by the year 2020
“Educate people about the sources of pollution and their health consequences
“Provide medical expertise to organizations working on urban planning, renewable power, increasing fuel efficiencies, and transportation alternatives.”
There’s also a petition drive urging Herbert to get going.
Are we going to continue to accept the grimy air, which demonstrably shortens lives, harms fetuses, increases health costs and cuts worker productivity? Or will the state government declare an end to its business-as-usual approach? A hot economy and better schools won’t be as valuable if the people in them can’t breathe.