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Paul Rolly: Utah clean-air group makes 'em laugh, makes 'em take action

Published February 10, 2014 7:18 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Legislature is filled each year with what I would call the winners and the losers.

The winners are those who, because of their status, get to meet face-to-face with legislators in private and who can expect lawmakers to stay awake and pay attention when they testify for their causes in committee meetings.

Those folks include the following: corporate interests such as oil, gas and mining representatives; private vendors selling software programs for public schools; charter school members and conservative morality advocates with a track record of getting their members elected as delegates to select party nominees at Republican conventions.

The losers are those who not only cannot get an audience with most legislators, but they also testify at meetings to the snores of lawmakers or, worse, get harassed by committee members during their appearances.

Those folks include environmentalists, advocates for the LGBT community, the Utah Education Association and the PTA.That discrepancy came into focus last week, when hundreds of notes were posted on the outside of the Senate chambers asking for a public debate on a bill that would protect gays and lesbians from housing and workplace discrimination.

The measure was scrapped anyway.

But one group that could be lumped in the "loser" category has piqued my interest because they are going around the Legislature and, with humor, are causing enough stir that reluctant lawmakers are taking notice.

Utah Moms for Clean Air won national attention last year, with a mention from comedian Stephen Colbert, for staging an Earth Day school poster contest encouraging students to show how pollution from oil, gas and coal hurts people.

The effort was a rebuttal to an Earth Day poster contest supported by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining encouraging students to show the benefits of fossil fuels.

The group's mock contest and the resulting publicity embarrassed the state division enough that, while another pro-fossil-fuel poster contest will be staged again this year, the contest won't be associated with Earth Day.

The Moms group, founded by Cherise Udell, also gained a lot of attention at Christmastime by posting on its Facebook page satirical lyrics to traditional holiday songs. For example:

To "Let It Snow" — "The pollution in Salt Lake is frightful and the refineries are being spiteful. These expansions have got to go, Just say no, Just say no, Just say no."

To "Joy to the World" — "Smog to the world, Stericycle reigns, Let people hold their breath! Let every man breathe their toxic fumes, and women and children, too, and women and children, too, and make us all sick and pay what's due."

And — "Dashing through the snow, in a great big SUV, Spewing CO2 and laughing greedily."

The group also placed Christmas cards on its Facebook page. One had a view of the Salt Lake Valley embedded in a dark, soupy smog. It said: "Merry Christmas. Love, Gary." Another was a picture of Santa surrounded by children — all wearing gas masks.

The result: The Web page is getting thousands of hits. And thousands attended a clean-air rally last month at the Capitol.

prolly@sltrib.com