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SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative committee endorsed creation of a bipartisan air quality task force to review what's being done and what new strategies can be adopted to clean up Utah's air.
Sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, HB70 received overwhelming support Wednesday in a meeting of the House Public Utilities and Technology Committee from both people in the audience and sitting committee members.
Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, said the task force represents a good effort to enhance efforts already being tackled in the air quality arena and a good step toward finding solutions to the problem.
- Estimates are that one in three Utahns experience some type of respiratory problem during high pollution periods.
- Prolonged exposure to low levels of ozone can reduce a healthy adult's lung function by 15 to 20 percent.
- Emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma increase about 24 hours after ozone levels are high.
- More than 47,000 children in Utah have asthma.
"I think we all want clean air, water and land," he said. "I support finding solutions … I've lived in this valley my whole life, with very few exceptions, and I have seen the air when it is bad and seen it when it isn't. You don't need a whole lot of scientific information to see that we have problems."
The committee heard testimony from Dr. Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, who said medical science has advanced to where the deadly health effects of poor quality air are widely known and documented. He pointed to heart attacks, strokes, sudden deaths, poor birth outcomes and diabetes as a few of the health conditions wrought by dirty air.
"Not only it is a medical issue, but it is a moral issue," he said. "And we have a moral issue to clean up our air."
Cherise Udell is an original member of Utah Moms for Clean Air. She's been focused on that issue for five years, and came to the Capitol Wednesday to support HB70.
"I think once they realize the gravity of the situation, and how much it affects them personally, and their families, they will want to make good positive changes," Udell said.
She also brought her two daughters along to reminded lawmakers the youngsters represented the responsibility they have to take action where they can.
"It is really appropriate for them to be here so you can see the faces that will be affected by the decisions you make," she said. "I call upon you as a mother."
"I think clean air is really an economic development issue," said Jonathan Johnson, president of Overstock.com and a member of the Salt Lake Chamber's Clean Air Task Force.
Johnson is among a growing number of Utah business leaders who say pollution hurts. He was joined by representatives of the Salt Lake Chamber and the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.
"When businesses want to relocate here, when they come on our gunky air days, it's a really tough sell," Johnson told committee members. One employee told him he had to leave, in part, because of the bad air quality in the winter.
Under Arent's measure, a 13-member bipartisan committee was formed of five Utah senators and eight members of the House of Representatives. The task force is modeled after one already set up to review and make recommendations on water issues facing Utah.
The bill, which moves to the full House, received only one no vote from committee Chair Sen. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who said he had concerns about what task force would intend to accomplish.
If the bill passes, the 13-member group would start work in the spring, report to interim committees in November, and prepare legislation for next year's session.