Utah experts discuss solutions to air quality crisis

A poor air quality sign is posted over a congested highway in Salt Lake City. Experts met on March 29 to discuss solutions to Utah’s air quality problems. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah pollution experts and local government representatives met virtually on Monday evening to discuss clean air and climate change solutions for Utah.

The “Virtual Town Hall” was moderated by Princeton University student Dani Ball, Park City High School student Montana Burack and Citizens Climate Lobby state co-coordinator Cecilia Foster.

Panelists said Utah’s poor air quality, especially the inversion, is of major concern to many residents. These issues with air quality are largely caused by power sources such as fossil-fuel run cars and gas-heated homes.

“We found in a study last year that approximately 5,000 premature deaths occur each year in Utah because of the air pollution issues that we’re facing,” said Ben Abbott, a BYU ecology professor.

Many of the panelists were keen on market-driven solutions that incentivize residents to transition to technology that is both less expensive and better for the environment. These types of solutions provide more realistic opportunities for residents to change, including public transit, hybrid cars, solar energy and nuclear energy.

“We need market-driven solutions,” said Rep. Mike Kohler, R-Midway. “That’s the nice part about the capitalist systems; once (electric cars) are half as much as they are, we’ll all be driving them.”

In order to make market-driven solutions possible, the panelists said that both big companies and residents need incentives to make changes. Some were skeptical of what these incentives could be.

“I just don’t know if we can take this hands-off approach, that as soon as things become affordable people will buy them and it will work,” said Midway mayor Celeste Johnson. “I do not know what the incentives are for (residents) to switch away from the easy power sources they have.”

Another possible solution the panelists discussed was making a full transition to solar energy.

“Utah is a good place for solar power,” Abbott said. “Two huge advantages we have are lots of blue sky days and higher elevation. It means we’ve got a huge amount of solar energy potential.”

While there is not a lack of energy-efficient technology, getting residents on board and willing to make these changes is the real challenge.

“Ultimately, if we don’t do these things voluntarily, they will be legislated and they will be mandated,” Johnson said. “Usually when legislation and mandates happen, it’s because it’s gotten really, really bad.”

Utah pollution experts and local representatives met over Zoom on Monday evening to discuss climate change solutions.
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