Thousands unite on Utah Capitol calling for cleaner air

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SALT LAKE CITY  — Thousands of Utahns donned filtration masks and crafted witty signs to protest for cleaner air at a rally that drew an estimated 4,000 people.

People who said they were tired of breathing dirty air showed up to the Utah Capitol midday Saturday, Jan. 25, to protest the poor air quality. There was no shortage of energy or of things to say as several speakers, from doctors to athletes, addressed the gathering to urge legislators to pass new laws that would result in cleaner air.

Dr. Brian Moench, the president of Utah Physicians for a Better Environment, called people to action.

“This is your state. What goes on in the building behind us is your government … this is your rally,” Moench said.

Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air, also told the crowd they were the key to convincing lawmakers to pass laws to regulate air quality.

“It is going to take each and every one of you to help lobby for [a cleaner air petition],” she said. “You need to be writing letters, you need to be making phone calls and you need to be doing emails; we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Her words drew shouts and cheers from the diverse group: Republicans, Democrats and people from different walks of life.

A large number of college students came out to protest because they said the air quality affects them. Two students held up the contact information for Gov. Gary Herbert.

Carrie Brown, a 23-year-old student attending Utah Valley University, said, “We hope that people will call or email; in hopes that they can make a difference too, they can be loud and obnoxious about how sucky the air quality is out here.”

For Jessica Ellis, a 24-year-old student at the University of Utah, the rally was a great way to see that other people care about having cleaner air as much as she does.

“I didn’t think so many people cared about our air,” Ellis said. “I’ve been complaining about it for months and months and I had no idea so many people cared, so hopefully we will get something done.”

Ellis admitted that most of the requests by the speakers are too much.

“It seems more radical,” she said. “I think they need to start with something smaller.”

Katherine Jackson, a University of Utah graduate, and Blake Holland, who attends Salt Lake Community College, attended because they wanted to show that they weren’t going to be “pushed around.”

From their house two blocks away they could hear the rally loud and clear, and it gave them a sense of unity.

“It’s just really nice to see everyone out here, protesting the same thing,” Holland said.

One 19-year-old girl had more than just her health to protest in behalf of— she was also thinking about her wallet. Anna De St. Aubin emphatically held a sign that read, “Bad air is bad for the economy.”

De St. Aubin is a hostess at a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake that takes a financial blow every night of poor air quality.

“We don’t get as many people in the restaurant,” De St. Aubin said.”We go from like 300 people a night down to like a 150. It’s nearly half as we normally would get on a clean air day.”

The decrease in customers translates to fewer tips, and De St. Aubin said she loses at least $150 a night when the air is bad.

Lawmakers begin the 2014 Legislature Monday, Jan. 27, under pressure from constituents for cleaner air.

 

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