Gov. Gary Herbert delivered his State of the State speech on Wednesday, and while I celebrate the good news he shared, such as increased funding for education and the fact that Utah's economy is going strong, I am also stupefied by his lack of leadership on Utah's No. 1 public health problem our dirty, stinky air.
The governor did briefly touch on the fact that Utah has an air-pollution problem. Yes, indeed, we have an air-pollution problem a major problem. For the month of January, Utah boasted the dubious distinction of choking on the dirtiest air in the nation. Actually after China, we probably also had the dirtiest air in the world.
And what was the governor's response to our state's chronic poor air quality? He admitted that every Utah citizen and business must be a part of the solution, but he leveled the majority of blame for our dirty air on car emissions: "Fifty-two percent of the pollution during inversions comes from tailpipes. Whether it's taking mass transit, idling your vehicle less and carpooling more … each of us individually can do our part."
Politician that he is, Herbert refuses to point a finger at our most powerful and polluting industries, such as mining and refining. Kennecott produces about 30 percent of the pollution in our air shed and makes billions doing so, most of which is sent back to England. But he happily points fingers at the rest of us who are just trying to get by!
I have a few polite questions for the governor: When was the last time you took public transportation? When was the last time your wife and/or family took public transportation? What about your staff? Do they all have free bus passes? Do they all have idle-free stickers on their cars? Do you, Governor, have an idle-free sticker on your car? Do you, Governor, drive a hybrid or a CNG vehicle? Your wife? Just asking ...
Governor, do you walk with your family to church? To work? To the grocery store? If getting out of our cars is your primary solution, then I expect you and your family, as well as your staff, to lead by shining example.
I also expect that you will be greatly increasing funding for UTA and developing a comprehensive valley-wide public transportation plan. Utah Moms for Clean Air would be tickled pink if this were the case.
Let me be clear, I love public transportation when it is user-friendly. When I have lived in or traveled to London, Washington, D.C, San Francisco and New York City, I always go car-free. Most people do. Why? Because, taking public transportation is easy, fast and convenient.
Utah's current public transportation infrastructure is not easy, fast or convenient to most citizens along the Wasatch Front. How can you expect someone to leave their car at home for a trip that will take 15 minutes when taking public transportation will take between one and two hours each way? If you are a family of four or more, this trip will also be more expensive via Frontrunner and TRAX than by car. Twice over, this is not an easy task for the average citizen.
Furthermore, why should Joe and Jane Citizen make this sacrifice while Kennecott, Tesoro and medical waste incinerator, Stericycle, keep on doing their polluting business as usual? Really, why should Jane ditch her car while at the same time the Department of Environmental Quality issues permits for the Tesoro refinery to expand and increase production?
Is that how the governor plans to offset the increases in industrial pollution by asking Jane citizen to stop driving, stop idling and carpool more often?
If so, please put the resources into our community to make it a win-win solution for everyone and ask industry and government to do their part, too.
Cherise Udell is founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air (firstname.lastname@example.org). She lives in Salt Lake City.