Clean Air Caucus

What could possibly bring Utah’s Republicans and Democrats together? Take a deep breath and you’ll have the answer.

Air pollution, a longstanding problem that harms both citizens’ health and the state’s economic growth, caused legislators to reach across the aisle and create the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus. The group was founded by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Milcreek, a few years ago, after a particularly brutal inversion season in which Utah held the dubious distinction of having the five cities ranked worst in the nation for air quality.

“We are not Congress. We actually work together to find solutions in the best interest of the people of Utah,” then-House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said at the caucus’s first press conference in 2014. “We agree on a lot of things. This is one of those issues where we have come together.”

Arent reaffirmed that unifying purpose at a press conference earlier this month, telling ABC 4 Utah, “Everyone wanted to work together, because the air we breathe isn’t Democratic air or Republican air. We’re all breathing this bad air today.”

The Clean Air Caucus hit the ground running. “We passed more clean-air legislation in 2014 than in the previous 100 years combined,” Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, recently told the Los Angeles Times. Legislation including cleaner-burning hot-water heaters and tax incentives for hybrid vehicles have been steps in the right direction.

So, has bipartisan cooperation cleared the air for Utah? Not exactly.

“Our air quality has improved but we need to do a lot more,” Arent said at this year’s Clean Air Caucus press conference. “Yes, we are making a difference,” she added. “Our air is improving. Is it improving enough? No. Do we have a lot more work to do? Yes.”

That work, already in progress during this 2017 legislative session, includes bills seeking funding for clean-fuel school buses as well as extending corporate and individual tax credit for energy-efficient vehicles.

Of course, the work extends to Utah’s citizens, who can make a real difference with common-sense strategies like carpooling, biking, using public transportation, burning less wood, replacing old fuel containers, and replacing gas-powered lawn mowers with electric.

What else can you do to escape the inversion? You can try your luck with Alliance for a Better Utah’s Escape the Inversion contest, this time offering a Feb. 24-28 getaway to Stoneridge Resort in Blanchard, Idaho. Enter here before the clock strikes midnight on Feb. 15, and you might win a chance to enjoy the resort’s pool, spa and recreation center, and the natural beauty of Idaho – all in all, a breath of fresh air.

-Better Utah volunteer, Doris Schmidt

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