My first hope is that Gov. Herbert's efforts are legitimate and sincere and if they are, Utah Moms for Clean Air will work diligently to support his initiative. —Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms For Clean Air
SALT LAKE CITY — Clean air advocates say they're glad Gov. Gary Herbert is making an issue out of Utah's pollution problem, but they find his air quality initiative to be unveiled next week falls flat by being voluntary.
A draft of the initiative obtained by the Deseret News describes the Utah Clean Air Partnership, or U-CAIR, as a nonregulatory campaign that builds on existing partnerships between government and business.
"State agencies and private entities are acting aggressively to meet regulatory requirements," the draft states. "This campaign, however, is a nonregulatory complement to those efforts, focusing on public education and voluntary actions which will help us achieve our goals."
U-CAIR includes a voluntary registration on a state website where people and businesses can pledge and disclose the changes they plan to make to help the state track emissions reductions.
Dan Mayhew, Utah's conservation chairman for the Sierra Club, said it appears the pledges — at least in the initiative's draft form — may be the thrust of Herbert's campaign, rather than anything substantive that might impact major industry polluters.
In the draft copy, U-CAIR urges individual initiative and doesn't speak to any concrete mandates for business.
"Because we each contribute to the air quality problem, each individual and business should take some ownership of the problem and commit to do something to help clean our air," the draft copy reads.
In his monthly KUED news conference Thursday, Herbert hinted at the initiative to be unveiled, which is reportedly scheduled to happen Tuesday.
"I think you'll see more of an emphasis on we people having to do our part along with what industry has already done," he said.
Herbert said industry has "dramatically" reduced pollution in recent years, and now it's time for residents to do their part.
Herbert also references his 10-year-energy plan, which includes the directive that the state expand its energy portfolio to include more renewable energy resources.
Some advocates concede there may be essential tenets of the initiative that are a good step in the right direction and there may be more substance than what they're privy to.
"My first hope is that Gov. Herbert's efforts are legitimate and sincere and if they are, Utah Moms for Clean Air will work diligently to support his initiative," said Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms For Clean Air. "I am always willing to first play nice — after all, I am a mom."
State air quality regulators have been working to come up with a plan to bring the Wasatch Front and a portion of Cache County into compliance with federal air pollution standards dealing with fine particulate, PM2.5. The continued presence of such nonattainment zones in the state threaten federal funding for transportation dollars. At the same time, winter ozone is posing problems in the Uintah Basin, where a multi-pronged effort is going after that anomaly to get ahead of any federal crackdown by the EPA.
The persistent dilemma of Utah's air quality has garnered the attention of groups like the American Lung Association, which ranked the Provo-Salt Lake City-Ogden area this year as the fifth-worst offender in the country for short-term particle pollution.
With such problems, Dr. Brian Moench, president of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said it's not plausible to believe industry will voluntarily curb pollution practices, and residents need something beyond encouragement — such as a viable, comprehensive mass transit system.
"I don't know how you voluntarily ask industry to cooperate and reduce their emissions when right now they are applying to increase them. There is a real disconnect there."
Moench pointed to the recent success by Kennecott to get a permit from air quality regulators to expand operations through its Cornerstone Project and recent announcements by a pair of refineries that expansions are anticipated.
"It is simply unrealistic. ... The IRS does not make paying our taxes voluntary for good reason."
Herbert notes most of the pollution is coming from cars and homeowners burning too much energy.
"I think most of us understand that for our best interest going forward, some of our behavior has to change," he said.
As part of the initiative, the draft document says Herbert's goals are to improve the air quality in all parts of Utah, implement key recommendations of Utah's 10-year Strategic Energy Plan, educate the public and "empower" them to contribute to the solution, and achieve behavioral changes to sustain benefits over the long term.
On Wednesday, a legislative committee approved Rep. Patrice Arent's bill to create an air quality task force. Some clean air advocates have quietly worried behind the scenes that Herbert's initiative is somehow meant to derail Arent's efforts to establish the task force. Others say the task force could actually serve as a forum to beef up the cornerstones of Herbert's objectives.
Udell said she hopes the initiative ultimately results in more than just an individual call to action and instead comes up with real public policy changes.
"Personal responsibility is a code word for letting corporations have free reign and them not taking responsibility."
Moench said by Herbert putting Utah's air quality problems under such an intense political spotlight, it is a double-edged sword of sorts.
"Yes, we want the issue to receive the attention it deserves, but if in doing that you bring forth solutions that really aren't effective, you have the potential to do more harm than good," he said. "We feel ambivalently about it. It certainly should not be passed off as a solution."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy