Utah lawmakers from both parties share goal of clean air; differ on approach

John Gibbons
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — Republicans and Democrats have the same goal for dealing with air quality this year, but differ in their ways to get there.

At this year’s Utah Air Quality conference at the University of Utah in January, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, explained that she assembled a bipartisan caucus on air quality in the 2015 session and passed more air quality bills than the previous year. She hopes even more pass this session. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, doesn’t see it the same way.

Utahns rallied at State Capitol Saturday. Photo by Chris Larsen

Utahns rallied at State Capitol Saturday. Photo by Chris Larsen


“Go as much electric as we possibly can, or go solar. I’m not opposed to that,“ Noel said. “We need energy efficient technology, a lot of good ideas out here,” Noel said, but he had reservations about having air quality bills be a top priority. “Air quality isn’t even a problem over where I live, so it wouldn’t be on my list,”

Noel said air quality legislation is a matter of priority. “Let’s put it in perspective,” he said, listing the tasks that are on the to-do list during this year’s session. “We are moving a prison for a billion dollars. . . We have a transportation issue. . . We are reaching the end of our water allocation. These are hard to juggle.”

Essential for both Noel and Arent is data that supports solutions before bills are passed.

Arent said, “It’s difficult for some of us. Having this research saves us money. I don’t want to run bills that [only] sound like they will make a difference. I need the real research to do that.”

While air quality in Utah has been raised in past sessions, Noel hasn’t always been convinced that air quality is a significant issue. He agreed that science needs to support legislative action. “You have to get the right experts. . . If we can bring the science forward and convince our colleagues. . . Certainly science is important in helping us prioritize.”

Bryce Bird, director of Utah’s Air Quality Administration, part of The Department of Environmental Quality, shared some confidence in the scientific research that has already been completed.

“In 2013 we had concentrations that we hadn’t seen in 10-15 years. Utah is unique in its air quality; literally in chemistry. The work that our technical analysis group has found, what’s forming the particles. . . It’s a tragedy that we have such poor air quality that we have a place where it’s ideal to do this research.”

He pointed out unanswered questions” “Is it really particles that are causing the problem? What more effects have we had on health?”

Arent mentioned things individuals can do to improve air quality. “I just want to say one car makes a difference. From a solution perspective make it unacceptable to idle your car in the winter, or something. Idling can cause a big problem,” she said.

Both representatives lauded the 2014 protest on Capitol Hill where more 4,000 protestors gathered, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Very conservative grandmothers from my district came, the community was very diverse and they cared about improving air quality. It was the largest rally I’ve ever seen here, “ Arent said.

Noel added, “I know that this is an impact. There is an impact when you get that many people to the Capitol.”

A similar rally was held this session on Jan. 31.

As of the start of this year’s session, there are more than two dozen bills that would impact air quality.

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