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Utah's air quality problems a hot topic at Legislature

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 4:15 p.m. MST

House Democrats say they will propose six measures to curb air pollution across Utah. "We know Utah citizens are demanding that state government find solutions to our air-quality problems," said Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Wasatch Front's notorious inversions this season continue to get plenty of air time at the Capitol, where Gov. Gary Herbert stressed Tuesday the state is working diligently on multiple fronts to address the problem.

At the same time, top Utah GOP leaders in their lunchtime caucus said they plan to look for "long-term" fixes to inversions, such as loosening restrictions on Utah's HOV lanes to ease congestion.

"We want our constituency to know we also believe in clean air," House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said.

"I want to have clean air for my children and grandchildren," Dee said, "and I'm not saying our counterparts do not. But the things (Democrats are) proposing right now are very short-term, very quick fixes that don't deal with the major problems with inversion and pollution in our valley."

During the meeting, House Republicans threw out a number of ideas, including the HOV proposal and making it easier for Utahns to drive alternative fuel vehicles.

Dee said the majority of Republicans have yet to back specific legislation, but are looking for long-term solutions aimed at the biggest source of pollutants, vehicles, unlike many of the proposals coming from Democrats in the Legislature.

The somewhat defensive counter move by House Republicans comes a day after top Democrats announced a series of air quality bills that, among other things, would implement free- or reduced-fare days for mass transit when air pollution levels are at their worst.

The Utah Transit Authority has said it would cost about $200,000 a day to eliminate the  fees, and while Herbert has said nothing is off the table when it comes to solutions, he emphasized Tuesday no one is sure yet how many cars that option would remove from the roads.

"We met with UTA and UDOT. There are different points of view of the effectiveness of free red-day," the governor said. "UTA has a lot of businesses giving out passes. The concern UTA has, which is still a research question, is: Do we increase ridership, or do we just lose money? If it's not going to change people's behavior, maybe it's not anything but a feel-good thing. But it certainly is one we can continue to explore."

Herbert, who delivered his air quality remarks during a media availability, is coming under increasing pressure by clean air advocates who are demanding the state clamp down on industrial sources of pollution and take more steps to solve the problem.

Activists staged a clean energy/air pollution rally at Herbert's energy in conference in January, the same month Utah Physicians for a Health Environment demanded Herbert declare a public health emergency.

Last week, groups rallied at the Utah Capitol for the issue and are planning a "coff-in" at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the rotunda.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche and Mary Mellor

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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