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A dollar spent on cutting air pollution saves $10, says BYU economist

Published February 5, 2013 12:38 pm

Environment • Legislative task force continues to explore ways to improve Utah's quality of life and its bottom line.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Improving air quality is good for the economy and for health, one of the world's leading pollution scientists told a legislative task force Thursday.

C. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economist, said that for every dollar spent on cutting air pollution there are around $10 in savings — because health care costs go down, premature deaths decrease and other measurable savings are realized. Pope noted that he could not quantify the costs and benefits of clear air in Utah.

"But what I do know is responsible efforts to clean up the air can make large contributions to human health, and they can reduce pollution-related health costs," he said.

"I also know that given the desire to live in healthy environments, efforts to control air pollution in Utah also can help to contribute to responsible economic growth and development."

The lawmakers and industry representatives who are part of the Legislature's Economic Development Task Force had lots of questions for Pope, whose studies on the links between pollution and health form part of the foundation of the nation's air-pollution regulations.

The panel wrapped up its second day of presentations Thursday on how pollution hurts the state's quality of life and drives away prospective businesses.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said she wants the panel to suggest ways lawmakers can help clean up Utah's air, whether it be with incentives, regulations or a combination of strategies. Arent originally proposed air quality for a stand-alone task force, but it has been elevated in recent months to a high-priority quality-of-life issue linked to the state's economic fortunes.

Several industry representatives told the panel what they are doing to address pollution and why reducing it matters to northern Utah's business community.

Craig Wagstaff, executive vice president of Questar, discussed his company's successful efforts to expand the use of natural gas by cars and heavy-truck fleets. The addition this week of a new fueling station at Weber State University in Ogden raised the number of natural-gas stations to 100, he said. And, thanks in part to incentives and a growing market, the cost of converting a vehicle to natural gas has been cut nearly in half, he added.

"We do feel some incentives are a good thing," Wagstaff told the panel.

Lee Peacock, director of the Utah Petroleum Association, told how Utah refineries have invested $1 billion in improvements that have helped cut their pollution impact. He urged lawmakers to make sure that air-quality regulators have the money they need to get their jobs done.

"A well-funded agency helps both them and us," Peacock said.

And Jonathan Johnson, president of Overstock.com, told how his company has lost employees and prospective employees because of the periods of high winter pollution.

"We see this as an economic development issue," he said.

Steve Sands, director of external affairs for Kennecott Utah Copper and chairman of the Air Quality Board, said his company is spending $2 billion on projects during a five-year period that impact air quality. He told how many improvements have helped the company save money — along with cutting pollution.

"We all have a role to play," he said, "in protecting and preserving our environment."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah