Having just ended its fifth year, Utah’s monthlong Clear the Air Challenge has been an enormous success in protecting the health of everyone who lives and works in the Salt Lake area. Through telecommuting, ride-sharing or otherwise taking fewer car trips to work, participants in this year’s regional Clear the Air Challenge eliminated 170,000 vehicle trips and kept 1.6 millions pounds of emissions from our region’s air.
Just as important is how the Clear the Air Challenge has helped make the Salt Lake regional economy stronger and more competitive. That’s the clean energy message I delivered on Capitol Hill at the beginning of the month as part of a delegation of dozens of local chambers of commerce and leading business executives. We met with federal lawmakers in a series of robust conversations about how local chambers can help their member businesses cut energy use to increase their competitiveness.
We told lawmakers that quality of life along the Wasatch Front is of growing importance for area businesses and those considering moving to our region. Though Utah’s majestic mountain ranges are a draw for tourists and businesses, they also create some air quality challenges.
Because the majority of Utahns live between two mountain ranges, during certain times of the year pollutants are trapped in the valley below cloud cover. This setting produces red air days and is a cause of concern for business and all Utahns.
Poor air quality hinders corporate relocation efforts, places additional regulatory burdens on business, increases health care costs and places Utah’s federal highway funding at risk.
Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), a national network of 370 local chambers of commerce, sponsored the trip. The Salt Lake Chamber is a member of CICE; we concur with the group’s belief that local chambers of commerce can best represent the interests of millions of small- and medium-sized companies that are chamber members. Local chambers also have a unique ability to serve as conveners and consensus builders in our communities.
Earlier this year, CICE highlighted the Salt Lake Chamber’s Clean Air Champions program as one of 10 innovative ways local chambers create economic vitality through clean energy and innovation. In its report "Local Chambers as Change Agents," CICE said that the Salt Lake program is helping businesses achieve millions of dollars in savings per year and improving the economic well being of the region.
The Salt Lake Chamber is proud of the successes of the Clean Air Champions program and we eagerly shared what we’ve learned with lawmakers and our colleagues from around the country. We know we must balance our economic interests as we carefully address air quality issues while minimizing costs to business. If we ignore the issue or simply fail to address it adequately, we face the very real possibility of additional regulatory burdens.
Local chambers know private sector solutions are better than government mandates. Clean air and energy make good business sense and we’ll continue to share our perspective about how local businesses will play a significant role in moving the country forward.
Ryan Evans is vice president of business and community relations for the Salt Lake Chamber.
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