Utahns have a long and noble tradition of volunteerism helping neighborhoods recover from violent wind damage or devastating spring flooding, stepping up to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, or providing a meal to a sick neighbor.
Gov. Gary Herbert is drawing on that spirit to continue to improve Utah's air quality. While our air quality is generally good, we all recognize that the mountain and valley topography traps pollution, causing us to exceed federal air-quality standards 15-20 days a year. It's not an issue only along the Wasatch Front, but also in the Uintah Basin, Cache Valley and other parts of rural Utah.
For the health of our residents and our economy, we must do better.
In his State of the State address, the governor highlighted air quality among his top priorities. A week later, he announced Utah's first statewide air-quality initiative the Utah Clean Air Partnership. The core principle of U-CAIR is this: Each of us can do something to improve Utah's air.
U-CAIR brings together government, businesses and households to set achievable air-quality goals and strategies. It asks everyone to make personal pledges on the U-CAIR web site, http://www.ucair.utah.gov. Businesses will make the pledge, families will make the pledge, and yes, government will as well. We will share examples of these commitments and more information about the initiative in coming weeks.
Critics are quick to dismiss a voluntary program, suggesting instead that we implement more regulatory controls. Perhaps the best response came from a constituent who wrote to the governor shortly after the U-CAIR announcement: "Thank you for having faith in the people of this state to voluntarily change our habits to reduce air pollution. We need to be given the opportunity to do something worthwhile without the government constantly watching over us. ... Educate us through the media, and watch results happen!"
Voluntary programs, such as the Division of Air Quality's Choose Clean Air campaign, have helped make the air cleaner today than it was 20 years ago. This approach has also worked with the Slow the Flow program, which has resulted in a nearly 20 percent reduction in per-capita water use in Utah over the past 10 years.
To those who discount U-CAIR as not going far enough, I suggest a more constructive response: Tell us what you are going to do to improve air quality. Wouldn't it have been refreshing if The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board, instead of criticizing U-CAIR before it even began, had committed to help educate the public about the initiative and to convert some of their truck fleet to cleaner fuels?
To avoid onerous regulations or federal mandates that harm the economy, the governor believes Utahns will do the right thing and take simple measures to improve air quality. We can and must drive less and drive smarter on days when pollution is building. We can reduce our energy use. We can make more informed decisions about the household products we use. Specific examples of actions we each can take can be found on the U-CAIR website.
Groups such as Moms for Clean Air, Breathe Utah, Wasatch Clean Air Coalition, the Clear the Air Challenge, the Salt Lake Chamber and many others have helped bring this issue to the forefront through their voluntary actions and education. Now we must all respond in a positive way to help solve a statewide problem, and we can do it together.
I have confidence in the people of Utah to step up to solve a tough problem and take the U-CAIR pledge. I will. How about you?
Alan Matheson Jr. is Gov. Gary Herbert's senior environmental adviser.