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State puts $500,000 into pollution education

Published January 10, 2014 9:33 pm

'Clear the Air' • Envision Utah developing ads to teach residents how to help cleanup.
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The state is funding a campaign to educate individual Utahns about what they can do to reduce air pollution.

A $500,000 grant approved Thursday by the Governor's Office of Economic Development board will help kickstart a tutorial being developed by two nonprofits: Envision Utah and UCAIR, a clean-air partnership set up in 2012 by Gov. Gary Herbert.

"Utah residents are concerned about air pollution and its impact on their health," Spencer Eccles, GOED's executive director, said of the "Let's Clear the Air" campaign.

"Understanding the origin of the pollution will help everyone be better informed about the actions they can take toward achieving better air quality," he said, adding "poor air quality has a negative impact on business growth and the quality of life for Utah residents."

Funding for the campaign was approved one day after Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker challenged the state to do more to fight pollution in his State of the City address devoted solely to the topic of clean air.

Alan Matheson, Herbert's senior environmental adviser, said technology has reduced the volume of air pollution fouling Utah's skies from levels measured 20 years ago.

And while U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials chided the state earlier this week for not being tough enough on industrial polluters, Matheson said regulatory measures to cut their emissions will be considered in the upcoming legislative session.

But Utahns also have to take individual responsibility for generating pollution, said GOED spokesman Michael Sullivan, citing statistics that suggest 57 percent of Utah's air pollution comes from vehicles and 32 percent from home-heating systems and other small sources. Industry,he said, is responsible for 11 percent of the gunk in the air.

"It's important for people to know the component they play if they're going to start screaming and yelling about pollution," Sullivan said. "The educational campaign will teach all of us what our impacts are. … The state is leading [with proposed regulatory changes] and now the citizens need to do their part."

Envision Utah President and CEO Robert Grow said his organization started building the air-quality campaign last spring using private funds and will solicit more as it develops messages addressing fine-particulate pollution in winter and ozone in summer.

"We started with research about public attitudes, to understand how Utahns feel about it emotionally," he said. Bonneville Communications is working on "creative aspects of the campaign," which will be distributed on television, billboards, drive-time radio programs and various forms of social media. The first ads should appear later this month, Grow added.

The clean-air advocacy group HEAL Utah is not part of UCAIR, the nonprofit headed by former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson that will work with Envision Utah on campaign content.

But HEAL Utah Policy Director Matt Pacenza applauded GOED's investment.

"Certainly, it's a good thing if we're spending money on a public-education campaign about clean air," he said. "It's one piece of what needs to be a wide-ranging campaign."

But simply encouraging people to drive less will not produce positive results if alternative means of transportation are not available, Pacenza said, maintaining that "along the Wasatch Front, mass transit doesn't work for a lot of people. It doesn't take them from where they live to where they need to go."

He's hoping this grant indicates Herbert and legislative leaders now feel a greater urgency to curb the negative effects of air pollution.

"People do care about it. People are concerned, from top leaders to everyday Utahns. And that's great," Pacenza said. "But we're just as determined to keep the pressure on Governor Herbert and legislative leaders to come up with some meaningful measures" to fight pollution.


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