About 150 Utahns rallied Wednesday outside the smog-shrouded Capitol building, demanding that Utah leaders do more to clean up the unhealthy air.
"All of us want clean air, and we want it now," Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, called out to the bundled protesters, many of them donning surgical masks. "Utah can do better than this, right?"
It was the fifth day northern Utah valleys were polluted enough to be in violation of federal Clean Air Act limits. And Udell pointed out that Utah communities once again swept the nation’s high-pollution forecasts following three weeks of high pollution last month.
Wednesday’s rally capped a fast-growing grass-roots campaign that included a Facebook event, letters, telephoned messages and petition drive.
A week ago, University of Utah student Carl Ingwell created the Facebook event called "Let Governor Herbert Know That We Cannot Breathe." It urged people to invite their friends to inundate Herbert’s office with phone calls and emails all day Wednesday, and about 1,400 signed up to participate.
At the rally, Ingwell thanked participants for turning out.
"We want [Herbert] to stop pointing the finger at us" for driving, he told the crowd, urging an all-of-the-above approach to solutions. "This problem will be solved by people like you and me. It will be solved at the policy level."
Six Democratic members of the Legislature attended the rally — Sen. Pat Jones, Rep. Patrice Arent, Rep. Marie Poulson, Rep. Joel Briscoe, Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss and Rep. Brian King, all of Salt Lake County.
Noting she was prescribed her first inhaler for breathing problems during the last high-pollution episode, Arent told the crowd: "This [legislative] session, we are developing a package of bills to address this."
Rally participants climbed stone steps into the Capitol and jammed the waiting room of Herbert’s office. They came to hand-deliver letters and a petition bearing more than 7,600 names that had been collected by Marjorie McCloy, a writer and retired administrator.
McCloy said the issue became personal for her when, a lifelong outdoors enthusiast and nonsmoker, she learned last fall that she had irreversible lung damage.
She said some simple changes — including more convenient and more affordable public transit, plus better education about low-emissions driving — could mean improvement to Utah’s air quality. McCloy also would like an executive task force created to brainstorm solutions.
McCloy and Ingwell were scheduled to meet with Alan Matheson, Herbert’s environmental adviser, and they planned to hand him the letters and petition. But the meeting never happened.
Meanwhile, before the rally, Matheson and Amanda Smith, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, met with reporters.
They said the Herbert administration is doing the best they can to deal with Utah’s winter smog spikes, and they listed state-business partnerships, a voluntary program and new regulations as some of their efforts. But both emphasized that the public has to help come up with solutions.
"This is really a change in ethic," Smith said, adding that industry accounts for around 11 percent of the winter pollution problem and small business and the public account for the rest.
Matheson added that controlling air pollution is important to everyone — ordinary Utahns as well as the economy — but the state has little budget to do the sort of outreach and education to teach the public about its role in solutions.
"If they can come forward with ideas, we’ll welcome them," he said. "Everything is on the table."
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