Today we talk air quality. I’m surprised it has taken me this long to address this topic, as this is one of the most urgent issues I think our government should be tackling. I am going to continue to be honest and candid with you as I ask for your vote, and I am going to admit to you right out of the gate: I may have waited on this topic because I’m not 100% sure how to fix it. This is admittedly a very complex problem, with no easy solutions, and there certainly isn’t a one-stop fix that will totally solve this massive problem. I do have some thoughts though, on how we can start to mitigate the issue, and I am ready to rely on the best scientific minds among us to counsel me on how State legislation can help this matter once I’m in office.
I started compiling the shattering statistics about air quality in our state, but then decided that I’m not even going to belabor the point about how urgent the situation in this valley is. You already know how bad our air quality is. Every Utahn living on the Wasatch front knows - all one needs to do is look out their window in the winter months. Not one of us can look at that blanket of disgusting smog covering our beautiful valley every winter and reasonably doubt the implications the air quality has for the health of our citizens, and our children in particular. Asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, the potential negative impacts on tourism and wildlife, our contribution to the global warming crisis, the list of ills our air quality exacerbates and the reasons to address it goes on… If you do still have doubts about the danger of the situation, go read this recent DAQ study summary and then come back: http://snowbrains.com/watching-the-air-quality-along-the-wasatch-front/
I have learned a few things about this issue through meetings with Utah Moms for Clean Air, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment. I’ve also read studies and attended meetings regarding this issue with the Weber County Board of Health over the last few months. As a result, I’m ready to say that there are some things we can do immediately to reduce the harm that our dirty air causes. These are truly simple, attainable steps:
Diesel - HEAL Utah statistics say that transportation is the cause of 48% of our dangerous emissions. Davis and Salt Lake Counties have already forced emissions testing for diesel vehicles, and the debate is still going on for Weber County. My thoughts are that we need to do this immediately, it is one step in the right direction.
Education. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I DIDN’T KNOW about this stuff 6 months ago. I had no idea how letting my car idle, cold starts, and wood burning all impact our air quality in a pretty significant way. I love a warm car and a warm fire as much as the next person, but now that I know these things contribute pretty substantially to the air quality in the valley, I can let some of them slide, and I think the rest of the state needs to be educated about how much these little things they may be doing on a daily basis are impacting us. If people know, they’ll change their behavior. We need to set up education programs in schools and we need to be enforcing laws that are already on the books and expand those that make sense: http://www.slcgov.com/idlefree/ordinance
HOV/carpooling incentives - it’s been done for decades because it works. We’re a friendly, happy community, and we can share some car rides to Salt Lake City if it saves us money, gets us there quicker, and reduces air pollution, right?
Release all restrictions to purchasing electric cars and support infrastructure for them. Why would we not allow the purchase of electric cars like Tesla or the forthcoming Chevy Bolt? If you have the desire and the means, there is absolutely no reason the state should be limiting your ability to do this. It is simply illogical at best and cronyism at it’s worst to ban the sale of these cars here. Furthermore, we need to support electric charging stations at every turn so that Utahns can adopt this clean technology without fear of running out of power.
Longer-term, yet equally important actions we should take involve:
Coal vs. clean energy - We must reduce our reliance on coal burning for energy folks. The average American utility company gets 40% of their energy from coal burning, our utilities get 65% from coal! I understand some Utah families rely on coal as their source of income, but I am sorry, we need to take the long-view on this. I want to support any family that may find financial difficulty from a shift to cleaner energy, it’s the right thing to do.
Industry - More frequent monitoring of stack testing, increased fines for polluters who exceed their permit limits and look at options for moving facilities away from population centers.
Wind and solar energy - these are growing fast, and will help but funding and technical support are needed to update all of our buildings, not just homes, so that we limit emissions. Stronger energy codes for new buildings and implement innovative tools to encourage energy retrofits for existing buildings of all kinds.
Public Transportation - Let me say that I understand in this still-rather-rural-state is not as strong as it is in other states. It lacks in infrastructure and people still really need their cars to go about daily business in this state - myself included! (Confession: I love my car.) I think enhancing public transportation options is a long-term solution to this problem that we should definitely take a look at.
I’m open to, and encourage you to share your thoughts on how we can fix this together. We must each own our own role in contributing to this problem, and we must each own our responsibility in helping to fix it. I’m not a specialist on this issue, and the above thoughts are what I have landed on for the time-being. I want and need to learn more, and it’s important that you know I will readily change my mind on any of the above stances if I’m given the evidence that shows I should, or if there is a better way to tackle the issue.
We might have to change our thinking and our habits in order to fix this problem, but a little personal adjustment and inconvenience is worth the payoff of insuring our children are healthy, and that the beauty of this state is maintained. When my kids looked out our front window in Roy every evening at sunset, they didn’t have to see the sludge that we see now, they just got to enjoy the amazing backdrop of beauty that I was so proud to raise them in, and I desperately want to get back to that place. I want a smog-free winter-sunset again and I think we can do it if we work together.
Thanks as always for reading, for reaching out if you have thoughts, and for your vote in November.