If the new system doesn't work, it won't just be weird. It will be hazardous to Utah's and Utahns' health.
The green-yellow-red system has been in use in the state for more than a decade. Its most noticeable feature is how it declares red days, days when certain kinds of particulates and other pollution trapped by valley temperature inversions make breathing such a dangerous activity that burning wood and coal are banned, driving is discouraged and those with sensitive respiratory systems are encouraged to stay indoors.
The new system will be broken up, not into the three colors that are familiar to everyone who drives a car or exercises outdoors, but into six categories that run from "good" to "hazardous." State officials say that, in addition to mirroring a federal Environmental Protection Agency design that allows for more state-to-state comparisons, the new system will also require burning bans and other actions at lower levels of pollution. And that, over time, will make the air cleaner.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, are concerned that the end of the easy-to-understand red light will lull residents into a false sense of security about the quality of the air they breathe. And, while business groups such as the Salt Lake Chamber are on board with the innovation, there is also a concern that it is all for show, a hope that businesses looking for new places to operate won't understand the hazards of living and working here because the red light isn't flashing any more.
Utah does have a history of putting undeserved happy faces on some of its statistics, from high school graduation rates to voter turnout.
Whether this new alert system is an improvement or not depends on the job of educating the public that is now before the media, environmentalists and, most of all, the state.