Success, to update the old saying, has a thousand parents. Failure is an orphan.
The death-dealing air pollution that so often hangs over the Wasatch Front has many thousands of causes. With no single smokestack that could be plugged, no particular activity that could be banned, and no one political or regulatory act that could heap credit on a specific elected official or agency, doing anything to face the problem always seemed like someone else’s job.
Which meant it was no one’s.
That’s why it is such good news that at least some members of the Utah Legislature seem to be facing up to the fact that, with no silver bullet available to slay our air quality problem, it is time to get off as many shots as we can in as many different directions. (These guys like guns, so let’s load up on firearms analogies, shall we?)
Not only that, but some of the actions under legislative consideration include the realization that, for even the smallest pollution source, upgrades and replacements cost money. And that, rather than expect individual households to pay up out of the goodness of their hearts, it makes sense for things that are of public benefit to be at least partially reimbursed by the public purse.
Gov. Gary Herbert has plugged a figure of $100 million into his proposed budget for such sweeteners. And lawmakers and advocates have quickly come up with plenty of ways to use the money.
Among the actions making their way through the long legislative slog are measures to replace state-owned vehicles that were made before the 2007 model year, contribute to efforts by railroads to switch to cleaner switch engines, as well as cash reimbursements for regular folks to trade in old dirty cars for newer clean ones, shift homes that rely on woodburning for their primary source of heat to cleaner furnaces, even replace old snowblowers and leafblowers with their emissions-free electric descendants.
Face it. There is little incentive for a family of limited means — which is most of us — to spend a bundle to replace a car that works just fine getting you to work every day while spewing toxic fumes. It’s all cost and practically no benefit. Unless, of course, there is some reason to believe that a few thousand of your friends and neighbors might do the same. Then it makes sense. It’s the same with fireplaces and snowblowers.
Another idea moving through the process would give the Utah Transit Authority $1.2 million, enough to make it whole for up to 17 days, scattered over three years, of offering free rides to everyone when the air quality is particularly awful.
Yes, some bolder strokes would feel good and do a lot. Making UTA free all the time — or at least through the inversion-heavy winter months — could be well worth the money. An upgrade to the state’s building codes that would require state-of-the-art efficiencies in homes and commercial buildings is long overdue.
But these measures — this spending — would be a very useful start. If it is seen as the beginning of the effort, not the end.