Air quality in Utah a pressing concern, according to task force

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SALT LAKE CITY — The state's struggle with air quality is among the top pressing issues identified by members of Economic Development Task Force, which delivered recommendations urging immediate action by Utah lawmakers in advance of the winter inversion season.

Created two years ago by the state Legislature, the 16-member task force has been studying what hurdles exist and what improvements can be made to Utah maintaining its position as an attractive place to live.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told his colleagues that they should partner with Gov. Gary Herbert's office and the Utah Clean Air Partnership to immediately launch a public information campaign aimed heightening awareness of what can be done to reduce air pollution.

"We have more than one place in Utah that has been affected and will be affected by poor air quality," Wilson said.

With topography that makes winter inversions an inherent problem along the Wasatch Front, there still remains much the public, government agencies and businesses can do, he said.

We have more than one place in Utah that has been affected and will be affected by poor air quality...The challenge is, can we pump less pollutants into the inversions?

–Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville

"The challenge is, can we pump less pollutants into the inversions?" Wilson asked.

The task force believes that is possible, he said, with an organized campaign aimed at motorists, which contribute to 57 percent of the winter pollution in Salt Lake and Davis counties.

The task force's recommendations also include creating the position of state resource sustainability director to help to cross-coordinate among agencies and other entities information about what best practices are already in play to curtail emissions.

During the course of the task force's work, the group surveyed what was already being done across state government and in other circumstances, and what steps are planned for the future to cut down on air pollution.

Wilson said the group encountered plenty of "creative solutions," but that information was not being shared.

The recommendations include:

• Increasing funding for the state Division of Air Quality to beef up enforcement of violations and provide more personnel for permits.

• Devote more money to retrofit existing vehicles so they are clean burning.

• Offer fleet incentives to reduce emissions.

• The Natural Resources Interim Committee and Workforce Services Committee should review the State Implementation Plan on curbing PM2.5 that is under review now and ultimately will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency to bring Utah's non-attainment areas with the federal Clean Air Act into compliance

• The Utah Legislature should work with the Utah Clean Air Partnership and the state Department of Environmental Quality to identify best practices to cut down on air pollution that have been successful along the Wasatch Front.

• Clarify that electric charging stations can charge for electricity without being regulated as a utility. A bill to set that in motion was introduced in another legislative committee Wednesday.

Lawmakers also noted that more needs to be done to get the word out about the strides made so far to improve Utah's air quality since 1970.

"Our air is cleaner today than it has been in decades," said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville. "We still have a long way to go, but people need to recognize how far we have come, some of the things we have done and where we are headed."

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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