Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP legislative leaders insisted Tuesday they are taking poor air quality seriously, even as the Capitol was being targeted for yet another citizen protest.
The "Coff’in" planned for 3 p.m. Wednesday represents the third time since the 2013 Legislature began that critics of Herbert’s air quality programs have gathered at the Capitol to protest. The effort will be joined by members of Mormon Environmental Stewardship, according to that group’s Facebook page.
"We know Utahns have to do more for their part," said Bart Tibbitts of Utah Tar Sands Resistance, the group behind the latest protest. But clean energy has to be part of any solution, too, he added.
"We’re looking for more leadership from the governor and elected officials," said activist Deb Henry, who’s also with the tar sands group. She said Herbert’s pro-energy development policy is a "runaway train that’s on a collision course."
Meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Herbert pointed out that the topic is getting more attention lately even though air pollution problems have been around for a long time, even when he was a Utah County commissioner.
"As I’ve said and I’ll say again, even one day that exceeds the PM2.5 [particulate pollution] standard is one too many," he said, pointing to the health and economic harm it causes. "The dirty air is not an acceptable condition that we need to embrace and say, ‘It’s the way it’s going to be.’ "
Already, there have been 20 days this year where fine-particle pollution — the microscopic soot from engines that builds up during high-pressure episodes in northern Utah valleys — has exceeded Environmental Protection Agency health standards. Beyond irritating eyes, throats and lungs, these high-pollution periods trigger heart and lung problems and even premature death.
In addition, the winter smog is blamed for driving away prospective businesses and tourists.
On Monday, House Democrats unveiled a package of six bills aimed at cutting pollution.
Then Tuesday, during a meeting with reporters, GOP leaders criticized the minority party’s approach. Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, called the Democrats’ package "very short-term and very quick fixes that don’t deal with the major problems."
"We’re all united in looking at these natural gas and alternative fuels," said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who also supports using traditional sources of energy, like coal, in less polluting ways.
One GOP proposal, providing incentives for cities to upgrade their fleets and extension of the tax credit for alternative-fuel vehicles, was killed in committee, 7-8. Democrats voted against it because it would take money from public education.
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