It’s almost inversion season. Time for thoughts and prayers.
In what is now an annual tradition, the pollution-prone season of December and January will spark the usual pronunciations from all quarters: Our air is hurting us, and it must be improved.
And, just as predictably, the people in charge will wholeheartedly agree, and then proceed to avoid significant advances.
To be sure, leaders in the Utah Legislature say they are serious. They even put the University of Utah’s Gardner Institute to work on developing a road map of possible solutions in time for the next session in January. Gardner hasn’t produced that yet, but one thing is already clear: The solutions will have to be more profound than anything the Legislature has been willing to do to this point.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Just this year Salt Lake City was taken off the “non-attainment” list for particulate matter, meaning it met federal clean air standards for three straight years. That has a lot to do with luck in the weather (which may not last), but it’s still undeniable that the air is cleaner than it was 20 years ago.
But three things have happened that make it so that time is not on our side. First, science has now shown that even small amounts of particulate matter are costing some Utahns their lives. Epidemiologists have essentially moved the goalposts on what is a safe level of pollution, and we’re not in the end zone. That is costing us both physically and economically.
Second, the gains made from cleaner cars — which have everything to do with federal law and nothing to do with Utah law — are slowing down. Now the challenge increasingly falls on the efficiency of buildings. There are no federal requirements for clean buildings. This time it’s on the state.
The builder-friendly Legislature has been reluctant, and they’re quick to point out that you can’t make buildings more energy efficient without making them more expensive at a time when we have an affordable housing crisis.
That’s true, but not doing it will cost even more. While cars may go 10 years, buildings are expected to last half a century or more. The decisions made today will be with us into the 2070s.
That brings us to the third thing. Climate change. Cleaning up Utah’s air is also about cleaning up the planet before it’s uninhabitable, and Utah’s carbon footprint is a size 13. Just this week one study put Provo and Ogden at the top of the list for carbon production among metro areas.
Over the next decade, denial and delay over climate change will become impossible. For us, electrifying the fleet and goosing up alternative energy goes beyond cleaner air. It’s about preparing for the future.
Our economy is strong, and innovation is in our DNA. Now is the time to think, pray and then make a bold move. History will reward us.