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Utah activists to push lawmakers to back 'clean air pledge'

Published January 29, 2013 10:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fed up with Utah's inversion-driven polluted air, a group of activists is launching an initiative aimed at pushing state lawmakers for a commitment to work on the problem.

"It's basically going to ask them to take a stand that clean air is essential for Utah's future," said Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Mom's for Clean Air. "Not only for the health and well-being of our families, but for a healthy economic future. We're asking them to make it more of a priority."

In recent weeks, Utah's air has been so bad that several of the state's cities were ranked atop the Environmental Protection Agency's worst air rankings. Utah's bad air was also featured by The Associated Press and on national news broadcasts on both the CBS and NBC television networks.

The Utah mothers were so concerned that Udell organized an emergency meeting in Salt Lake City on Saturday to organize the pledge effort.

"Our kids need clean air now, not tomorrow," said Udell, adding that about 30 people attended the meeting. "It's been so bad that it was important to do something now. We all get collective amnesia when the weather clears up."

The group will ask each state lawmaker to sign the pledge ­— a committee is drafting the specific language — and then plans to publicize the list of those who sign and those who don't.

"It's kind of a naughty and nice list," Udell said. "We want to remind (lawmakers) that we're paying attention and that their constituents are crying out for clean air. We want to shine a spotlight on who's looking out for Utah's interests and who's not."

The group also wants lawmakers to work on both legislative and regulatory mechanisms for addressing the problem, Udell said.

Just how Utah lawmakers react to the clean air pledge may depend on how the pledge is drafted, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday.

"They've got to do it in a away that it's broad enough to appeal to people across party lines, but specific enough so that it has some meaning," King said.

Air quality shouldn't be a partisan issue, but proposals to solve the problem that focus on taxation or other restrictions on business and industry would likely polarize people along party lines, said King, who attended Saturday's meeting. He suggests framing the issue in terms of its impact on Utah's economy — the ability to attract tourists and new business dollars — may be one way to attract support from conservative lawmakers.

The state's top economic development officials say that in addition to questions about how Utah funds it's education system, companies considering a move to the Beehive State are also beginning to ask, "What's up with your air?" King said.

The Utah mothers are also working on a second initiative to prompt schools in communities with acute pollution to establish air quality committees.

The committees would address indoor air quality in school buildings and develop programs that allow students options for indoor physical activity on days when the air outside presents a significant health risk, Udell said.

jdobner@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jenniferdobner