Six new pieces of legislation, aimed at addressing the problems contributing to Utah’s poor air quality, were introduced by members of the Utah State House Democratic Caucus.
The package of bills was proposed after numerous groups demanded action from local lawmakers and the governor to improve the state’s notoriously poor air quality.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, introduced legislation that would require all state agencies to develop a plan to reduce activities that cause air pollution. Arent explained that another bill would make Utah Transit Authority trains and buses free for riders in January and July. These two months have had especially poor air quality recorded, and the bill’s intent is to encourage people to take advantage of public transit during these times. Arent explained that other bills push for more strict regulations than current EPA standards and encourage use of the best-available quality air scrubbers.
Arent understands this will be a multiple-year process but believes it will benefit those on both sides of the aisle.
“This is a bipartisan issue because air quality effects us all. It effects business, homes, health and our economy,” Arent said.
After several Utah cities were declared to have the worst air quality in the nation recently, numerous activist groups stepped forward to demand action. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment declared a public health state of emergency in January. Utah Moms for Clean Air created its own plan for a clean-air pledge in the hopes that local lawmakers would sign it. Also, a Facebook campaign led to a rally where hundreds gathered on the steps of the Capitol asking Gov. Gary Herbert to take immediate action about the poor air quality.
Joel Briscoe, minority caucus manager, chose to sponsors the bill to pay for free UTA passes during the months of high pollution for personal reasons and out of concern for the state.
“My wife has asthma — it is like having a 10 to 20-pound weight on your chest. I know there are thousands of people in Utah who suffer from respiratory problems,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe and Arent believe changing people’s habits will be the key to diminishing Utah’s pollution problem.
“If we can change behavior, that will make a big difference. This means more Skyping and conference calls, more energy-efficient vehicles and creating better environmental habits,” Arent said.
Other bills push for providing individual income tax credits for the purchase of specified UTA passes, supporting the operation and expansion of mass transit and creating a dedicated transportation account to support the operation and expansion of mass transit.
Brisco and Arent also gave advice to BYU students on how they can help curb Utah’s air pollution issues. They suggested that BYU students should contribute by carpooling, not idling their cars, and shortening the number of trips.
“When you first start up your car is when most the pollution happens. Most of the pollution comes out the first two miles you drive, so we encourage BYU students to walk as much as possible and start up their cars as few times as possible,” Arent said.
As the air quality has decreased, the BYU Student Health Center has seen an increase in the number of respiratory-related issues. Dr. Keith Willmore, medical director at the health center, said if these bills are passed, everyone, especially people who enjoy the outdoors and those who suffer from asthma, will benefit. He advised staying inside as much as possible to avoid the pollution until it subsides.
“Stay indoors, especially exercise indoors. We have certainly seen a number of students who have asthma recently with the pollution. If you have asthma, the air pollution will make it worse,” Willmore said.
Democrats intend for these bills not only to get a conversation started but to make meaningful reforms. The bills introduced are not yet officially numbered, but they have all been filed and will be considered by the Legislature.
“If we want to make our air cleaner and our economy stronger, everyone has to contribute,” Briscoe said.