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SALT LAKE CITY — The Wasatch Front may get a public black eye over its wintertime pollution and nasty inversions, but the beating ignores the efforts being made to clean up the air.
That message, stressed by multiple groups to a committee of legislators, needs to get out more and is vital to the long-term economic health of the state, according to conclusions of the Economic Development Task Force.
"We have to tell the story of the progress we have made so far," said Jeff Edwards, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.
Edwards said air quality has become a driving issue behind a company's — or a family's — desire to locate in a particular area, or a reason to leave.
Air pollution has already chased away people and driven companies from the Wasatch Front, he added.
"We have seen examples of companies and individuals who have made the decision not to come here because of air quality," he said. "It is a heartbreaking experience to see it happen."
We have seen examples of companies and individuals who have made the decision not to come here because of air quality. It is a heartbreaking experience to see it happen.
–Jeff Edwards, Economic Development Corporation of Utah
Edwards was among a slate of people who testified Wednesday in front of the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee to detail what battles have been playing out in the area's war to conquer pollution.
Air quality regulators have passed more than 20 new rules to decrease emissions that contribute to PM2.5, or fine particulate pollution.
The Utah Clean Air Partnership's Stephen Sands said the organization is in its third round of grant cycles and has awarded 20 grants totaling $550,000 for such programs as Salt Lake City's bike share and a "Bad Air" App developed in partnership with the University of Utah.
Another 56 projects represent $1 million in funding spent in the past two years, he added.
In another effort, 7,000 old gas cans were exchanged in a public outreach.
Ryan Evans, vice president of business and community relations for the Salt Lake Chamber, said the push needs to continue for enhanced transit options, cleaner vehicles and in particular the transition to Tier 3 or cleaner-burning fuel.
Edwards told lawmakers it is critical to realize what is at stake.
"I believe our future desirability as a destination for new companies is in jeopardy if we don't take this on," he said.