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Gov. Gary Herbert next week will ask Utahns and businesses to voluntarily reduce emissions as part of a clean-air initiative touted during his State of the State address.
A memo from the governor's office sent Thursday invites "leaders in local air quality efforts" to log on to a new state website and "make meaningful changes that can help us track emission reductions."
Herbert's director of environmental quality, Amanda Smith, said Friday the site will only be one part of the governor's Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) initiative.
"There is definitely more to UCAIR than has ever been done before in Utah," Smith said.
Herbert argued Thursday that the time has come for the state to take action to improve Utah's air quality.
"I believe people act in their own best interest," Herbert said. "We need to provide a forum for input … and a recognition and awareness that this is in your own best interest to change your behavior. That's how we'll approach it, and I think we'll get good outcomes.
Herbert said industry emissions have been lowered "dramatically," but individual emissions, from cars and homes, remain a problem and Utahns need to do their part. And, he said, there are air-quality issues in the Uinta Basin and Cache Valley, not just the Salt Lake Valley.
"All of us recognize we have some unique challenges when it comes to the air quality in Utah," Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference Thursday. "We have some of the worst air on 17 to 20 days of any place in the country and we can't just ignore that. We can't just blame it on the weather."
Another memo outlining the effort notes that if the state doesn't act, federal mandates could be imposed.
"If we are not able to meet Clean Air Act standards soon, many areas of the state will be subject to federal sanctions, including restrictions on expanding or attracting businesses and a loss of federal transportation funding," says the memo outlining the plan. "Most importantly, failure to meet air-quality standards may affect the health of Utah residents, especially our most sensitive populations."
Karen Hevel-Mingo, director of the health-advocacy group Breathe Utah, hopes there will be more to the governor's campaign when it is rolled out next week.
A pledge website seems similar to the "Clear the Air Challenge," a voluntary pollution-reduction campaign supported by local leaders, including Herbert, although in 2010 the governor took some heat for not participating in the challenge he endorsed.
"It's hard to tell how extensive the program is," Hevel-Mingo said of Herbert's effort so far.
With transportation as the biggest source of pollution-related emissions, a focus of any successful campaign will need to address public transit and other smart-travel tools, she said. Plus, a big part of any anti-pollution effort has to be public education.
And that's not a very difficult point to make with many Utahns, said Hevel-Mingo. "A lot of people will look out on bad air days and see we have a problem."
Herbert couched his clean-air push as quality-of-life and jobs issue.
"It's an economic development [issue]," he said. "If we don't get a handle on this air quality, we stifle economic growth and development in this state. So health and economics mandate that we do something."