On air quality, legislature sends mixed-signals

Air quality in Utah is among the unhealthiest in the nation. Forbes magazine has ranked Salt Lake City as the ninth most toxic city in the United States, paired along with the American Lung Associations “F” grade of Salt Lake County for the two most important components of air pollution, ozone and particulate matter.¹

Why is this a major concern for Utahns? Because:

  • Air pollution increases the incidence of SIDS, low birth weight syndrome, premature birth, and infant mortality.¹

  • Air pollution increases the incidence of the most common forms of childhood cancer, especially leukemia.¹

  • Air pollution increases genetic damage in newborns that can lead to increased morbidities as an adult, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.¹

  • Air pollution increases the rates of sudden death, heart attack and stroke by increasing blood pressure.¹

That is why it was such a breath of fresh air (pun intended) to hear Gov. Gary Herbert call for legislative action to clean up Utah’s air during his recent State of the State address.

“These actions, and others, will have real costs and real impacts on all of us, but I’m convinced the benefits to our economy, to our communities and, most importantly, to our public health, will justify the costs,” Herbert said.²

This call to action became more than political fodder last Friday, when the Senate passed its first clean-air bill, SB99, which requires that at least 50 percent of passenger vehicles purchased by the state government be high-efficiency or alternative-fuel.

In addressing the legislation, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said “I hope that businesses and individuals will follow the state’s lead and also convert 50 percent of their new purchases to high-efficiency vehicles. So many people have criticized me and other legislators for not doing enough, and this is exactly the type of action that we need to take.”³

But after such gallant statements, why are we still left scratching our heads? Irony is often cruel.

Currently making its way through the Legislature is a new bill that would charge owners of hybrid, electric and natural-gas vehicles more to register their vehicles. SB139 will triple the registration fee for a natural gas or electric vehicle and nearly quadruple the fee for a hybrid vehicle.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, says that drivers of alternative-fuel vehicles still use roads, but don’t help in maintaining them because they don’t pay their fair share of gasoline taxes. If changes aren’t made, Utah’s roads will deteriorate and all drivers will suffer.4

Really? Sounds like a bum deal. We can either die as a result of poor air quality or by driving on poorly maintained roads? Pick your poison.

While I can appreciate the drama, in reality, we are now left to question the Legislature’s true intentions in cleaning up Utah’s air.

  1. “Utah Air Quality.” Http://utah.sierraclub.org/. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

  2. Gehrke, Robert. “Governor Calls for Action on Cleaning up Utah Air | The Salt Lake Tribune.” The Salt Lake Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

  3. Davidson, Lee. “Utah Senate Passes First Clean-air Bill | The Salt Lake Tribune.” The Salt Lake Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

  4. Gehrke, Robert. “Is Charging Alt-fuel Drivers More Good for Roads or Bad for the Air? | The Salt Lake Tribune.” The Salt Lake Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

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