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Legislators should look up, not down

“We have beautiful roads.”

Those were Sen. Margaret Dayton’s comments yesterday in the Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee regarding a bill that would increase speed limits in several sections of the I-15 corridor.

And she’s right. The newly finished portion of I-15 in Utah County is pothole free and wide and easy going. But as beautiful as those roads are, they don’t compare to how beautiful our blue skies can be.

Dayton’s comment touches on a larger concern with many of the bills passed in the state legislature: too many state legislators are looking down, instead of up. If Dayton had looked up as she was driving, she wouldn’t have seen blue sky. She’d have seen a smoggy haze that put Provo and four other Utah cities in the top five for bad air quality nationally.

But the problem of clean air is catching the attention of some members of the state legislature. And although the air we breathe is hardly a liberal or conservative concern, the new legislation being proposed is coming squarely from the small Democratic faction in the state legislature.

Yesterday house and senate Democrats held a press conference in which they announced six key bills that they hope will help reduce the number of bad air days many Utah valleys experience during the cold winter months. Though the precise language of the bills has not been released, two bills seem particularly important.

The first is a bill by Rep. Marie Poulson. The bill would provide tax credits for people who purchase certain types of UTA passes, offering a financial incentive for citizens to curb their use of high-polluting vehicles and instead use mass transit. According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, personal vehicles make up some 55 percent of pollution in Utah. Increasing mass transit use would have a direct impact on that number.

The second is a bill by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck that would lift restrictions mandating the state not to exceed federally required environmental regulations as set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. State law currently prohibits agencies from adopting standards that improve upon the regulations set forth by the EPA. Chavez-Houck’s bill would allow the state to set more stringent standards–standards that could reduce the amount of air pollution seen during the winter and summer months.

Utah has beautiful roads, and when they aren’t being eroded by freezing weather, they make traveling through the valleys much easier. But if Utah is going to continue to enjoy the luxury of unfettered locomotion, it is time to start looking up, not down. It is time to start looking forward, not backward.

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