This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah: The greatest snow on Earth, or the dirtiest air in the nation?

Despite the best efforts of state marketing officials to focus on the former, our dirty little secret the air pollution that chokes our basins during temperature inversions is out.

The Salt Lake City and Logan metropolitan statistical areas made the American Lung Association's 10-worst list for short-term particle pollution, described to the national press as "a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols."

It's not a nice reflection on Utah, where automobile emissions account for about half of the fine-particle pollution while contributing heavily to the mix of chemicals that form ozone. But it is an accurate reflection.

Our nasty air is a public relations disaster, bad for tourism, for economic development, for our quality of life. And worse, it endangers our health. People, particularly the young, the old and those with respiratory ailments, are wheezing, sneezing, gasping and even dying.

State air quality officials chafed at the listing. They say the rankings, derived by averaging air quality readings for the past three years, don't take into account the progress that's being made.

It's true that our air is not as dirty as it was decades ago, before the health hazards of particulate matter and ozone heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, asthma, difficulty drawing breath were widely known. Cars are getting cleaner. Smokestacks are disappearing. Mass transit is expanding.

It's also true that state Department of Environmental Quality officials and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are working diligently to meet new federal air quality standards, and thereby prevent the loss of federal transportation funding. The call to improve energy efficiency by state agencies and generate electricity from renewable sources will have a positive effect.

But, instead of being defensive, we need to be proactive, innovative and dedicated to solve our air pollution problems, at every level of government, and in every single home.

The federal government should make air quality standards increasingly more stringent, further boost vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, sink more money into renewable energy and alternative fuels, and provide incentives and funding for clean-burning vehicles.

Huntsman should convene a special air pollution task force with a mandate to look at all possible solutions. Gas guzzler taxes. A moratorium on new road construction. Free public transportation. Freeway tolls and congestion pricing. Stringent industrial and vehicle emission laws. Lucrative tax breaks for fuel-efficient vehicles. The rapid conversion of the state fleet to hybrids. Everything should be on the table.

Moreover, county and municipal governments should stop the sprawl that necessitates long commutes by adopting smart-growth standards, including steep impact fees for new homes and businesses, and land-use ordinances that favor transit-oriented development.

You, too, must play a role. For a list of things you can do to clean the air, go to And tell your national, state and local leaders to act now and get creative. Tell them to clean our dirty air, mend our soiled reputation, and start saving, not shortening, precious lives.