Governor meets with UTA, UDOT to discuss air quality

Posted at 5:53 PM, Jan 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-29 22:37:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert and his staffers met with representatives from the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Transit Authority in a "brainstorming session" to discuss ways to improve the state's air quality.

“Our current state of air in the state of Utah is not acceptable,” Ally Isom, the governor's deputy chief of staff, told FOX 13 following the closed door meeting on Tuesday.

“There’s more we can do. We’re doing a lot already, and this meeting was to better understand current efforts by both UDOT and UTA. I think we had a good overview of that, but there’s a lot more that can be done, and we’d like to focus on those other opportunities to improve air quality in Utah.”

The meeting comes after a massive inversion camped out over Utah, generating negative publicity for the state nationwide with claims that Salt Lake City's air was worse than Beijing at times.

Ideas discussed Tuesday included free or reduced cost rides on public transit on bad air days, paid for by Utah businesses.

"We do an excellent job in the peak hours," said Michael Allegra, the general manager of UTA. "At peak hours, the system is actually at capacity. So some of our challenge is to spread out the peak, and one of the techniques we talked about is staggered work hours and spreading out that load. It helps the highways and the transit system."

Isom told FOX 13 the discussion did not include discussion of tougher regulation of vehicle emissions or industries that pollute. Environmentalists like Cherise Udell, the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said Tuesday's meeting was "absolutely not enough."

"I hope that he will take much stronger leadership on this issue," said Udell. "It would be fabulous if he would unveil a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem that goes beyond just asking people to get out of their cars."

So far, the Utah State Legislature only has one bill dealing with air quality. House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said it is an extension of tax credits to people who purchase alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles. Still, she said, a discussion about bad air is necessary.

"We should always be evaluating where we are, and the kinds of impacts our regulations have on people, and have on businesses," she said Tuesday. "It's really about a balance, and about the trade-offs. Surely, it's about the conversation."

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