Stephanie Pitcher: Time for Utah to find the political willpower to make clean air a reality

There are ways to get cleaner cars on the road and build cleaner buildings.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Poor air quality obscures the Oquirrh Mountains and downtown Salt Lake City, as seen from the University of Utah on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

In a recent survey of voters in Salt Lake City, Millcreek, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights and Murray, more than 1,100 respondents indicated poor air quality across the Wasatch Front as their top issue of concern.

It’s not hard to see why. Air pollution increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Miscarriages increase by 16% during inversions, and all Utahns are at risk of dying an average of two years earlier because of our bad air.

As a lawmaker, as a mother and as a resident of Utah, air quality is a top concern for me, too. Last year, I introduced a bill to close loopholes in the vehicle emissions testing process by cracking down on illegal polluters. Independent testing has shown that vehicles with tampered emissions control devices can contribute up to 200 times the amount of pollutants than the vehicle was certified to emit — increasing the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.

My bill, HB336, aims to reduce illegal pollutants by allowing a county to investigate and impose a strict fine and civil penalties for individuals who fraudulently register their vehicle with the DMV to avoid their county’s vehicle emissions testing requirements. HB336 passed the House and Senate and was signed by the governor in March.

HB336 is a start, but there is still much work left to do. Here are three areas where Utah can make meaningful progress to clean up our air:

1. Cars that are 15 years old or older make up just 11 percent of passenger vehicles nationwide, but they account for more than half of all vehicle emissions. Getting more people out of old cars can have a significant impact on air quality in Utah, but buying a new car is not a financial reality for everyone. Therefore, I support subsidies to help low-income drivers trade in old cars for newer vehicles that pollute less.

2. Green building codes are an air quality solution that help both home builders and homeowners alike. The upfront cost of building an all-electric or pollution-free home can be less than the cost of building a mixed-fuel home, making pollution-free construction a big win for builders. At the same time, homeowners benefit from lower utility costs when they buy energy efficient homes. I support green building codes that will help address two major issues across the state: home affordability and clean air.

3. I am joining colleagues across both sides of the aisle in supporting Prosperity 2030, a bipartisan legislative solution that aims to reduce pollution in Utah by 50% by 2030. This is an ambitious goal and a big investment in change that requires bold and intentional leadership. I am up to the task. I have brought people together across the aisle before through my work on criminal justice reform, and I am ready to do it again for clean air.

Residents in my district and across the state have a right to breathe clean air. We already have the tools to implement common sense air quality measures. It’s time to find the political willpower to make it a reality.

Rep. Stephanie Pitcher

Utah state Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, represents Utah House District 40, which includes parts of Salt Lake City, Millcreek and Holladay.