Mayors urge Utah lawmakers to deal with dirty air

Posted at 7:44 PM, Feb 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-14 21:44:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's dirty air is a subject that is quickly sucking up a lot of oxygen at the state legislature.

State lawmakers say it's the biggest thing that they've heard from their constituents so far this session. But there may not be a lot of legislation this session dealing with air quality.

House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he would like to see something more substantial to deal with the bad air instead of a quick fix.

"We don't want to just rattle some sabers or show you something kind of neat, 'Let's have a task force!'" he said Thursday. "I'm not interested in that. I think that what you're going to find is if we're going to go put our political capital behind something like clean air, we want something that's long range, something that's substantive."

A series of bills are expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks dealing with air quality. Already, a bill that dealt with tax credits for alternative fuels has died in committee.

On Thursday, the mayors of Salt Lake City and Ogden unveiled a list of proposals to deal with Utah's air quality, including more emphasis on people to drive less and use more mass transit. The mayors also pushed for legislative and regulatory actions to improve the air.

"We are all affected by this bad air," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said at a news conference. "We're all contributing to the bad air."

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the air quality is an issue that affects both Republicans and Democrats, and it's bad for business.

"I've certainly heard from a lot of those businesses that have relocated in the outdoor industry and say, 'Hey this is a real issue. It needs to be given serious attention,' and that's the business side," Caldwell said. "But there's the regular resident that wants to get around and they may have asthma and breathing problems or they just want to go out and exercise."

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Governor Gary Herbert said he is listening to constituent's calls, emails and even the protesters who have camped in his office to demand action on air quality.

"We're doing some remarkably good things," the governor said. "Can we do more? Yes."

Herbert said he's implementing some changes including converting the state fleet of cars to natural gas, staggering working hours and increasing mass transit. He has also starred in public service announcements about keeping Utah's air clean.