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There is an appetite to clear the air.
That's true, at least, for the mayors of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and Ogden. Thursday, along with a representative from the Salt Lake Chamber, they asked Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature to take steps to improve air quality.
"We want the Legislature to take more action," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker at a news conference in the Capitol. "Our air quality is grossly unacceptable."
Becker was joined by Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and Ryan Evans, from the Salt Lake Chamber, with a list of actions they say would make a difference in air quality. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and UTA General Manager Mike Allegra also signed on to the plan.
Already this legislative session, various groups have rallied at the Capitol to press lawmakers on clean air.
The mayors' proposals include increasing the local option sales tax and gasoline tax to give UTA additional funding to broaden its bus service and reduce the need for cars, repealing a Utah law that forbids setting air-quality standards higher than federal regulations, extending tax credits for clean-fuel and electric vehicles (such a provision was recently killed in committee), changing state vehicle registration fees to a mileage-based system and providing additional funding for an educational campaign on health effects of poor air quality.
Although, historically, there has been resistance among legislators to push clean-air initiatives, Caldwell said he senses "an appetite" among lawmakers to do something this year.
"We want a robust dialogue," Caldwell said. "We're all in this together."
And they may get it. Thursday, the governor called on every agency in government, every business and every individual to do their part.
"Everyone has a role in this, and I applaud the mayors," he said.
The governor noted a bill now pending would require buses to use CNG (compressed natural gas). And his administration is looking at how to use flex time to make sure employees aren't on the roads idling during rush hour.
"[And] I like the idea of a tax credit for our clean fuels," the governor said. "I think that tax credit ought to be extended."
In addition, Ric Cantrell, chief of staff for the Utah Senate, said legislative leaders have been discussing air quality from a variety of aspects. "There is an appetite to move in that direction," he said.
The mayors noted that there is no "magic bullet" or single initiative that would eliminate air pollution.
Rather, state and local governments will have to work with industry, small business and the public to make concerted efforts to cut pollution most notably from vehicles.
The mayors also suggested non-legislative approaches, such as employers providing transit passes and encouraging carpooling and telecommuting among their employees. They even asked that employers pass parking fees along to their employees in an effort to dissuade them from single-occupancy commuting.
Health advocates and scientists for years have warned of the ill effects of air pollution, particularly at rates seen in northern Utah valleys in wintertime. But Caldwell and Evans also warned that bad air is bad for business.
Evans said air pollution is a deterrent to attracting new business to Utah.
And Caldwell maintained it's a big negative for Utah tourism. "If you can't see the mountains, all our efforts are for naught," Caldwell said.
Earlier this week, legislative Democrats unveiled six bills to fight air pollution, including encouraging mass transit use on bad-air days by making transit passes free and, as the mayors proposed, repealing state law to allow rules more strict than federal regulations.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.
firstname.lastname@example.org Mayors' plan
Additional funding for UTA to expand bus service
Allow Utah to set air standards more strict than the federal government's
Extend tax credits for clean fuel and electric cars
Change vehicle registration fees to a mileage-based system
Devote funding for a widespread education campaign