Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Drivers wait in the Park and Wait lot at the Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City on Monday, January 17, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

An executive order requiring state vehicles to shut down after idling for more than 30 seconds is a clear-headed effort to address a problem that has generated a discussion as murky as a winter inversion.

Gov. Gary Herbert's Reduction of Automotive Idling order is a practical approach that will have a measurable effect on air quality. While it certainly isn't a panacea, it is at least a real attempt to acquire real results. And, it is a good instance of government setting an example for responsible conduct, as opposed to simply passing statutes to require it of citizens.

The Herbert administration has been criticized by clean air advocates for not doing enough to address a problem they say is growing more pernicious by the year. Much of the debate on that subject has wandered into the fuzzy areas of overall energy and regulatory policy. Is the state pushing fossil fuel development over green energy? And, is it tough enough on the big polluters?

Such high-altitude questions aside, there is no doubt that what emanates from the million-plus tailpipes on Utah roads is a major factor, day-in and day-out, in the quality of the air we breathe. Attacking the source of the problem, even with baby steps, has to merit some credit.

An anti-idling ordinance passed by Salt Lake City last year ran into headwinds at the Utah Legislature, which balked at the city taking such authority into its own hands. A truce was reached after the city agreed to enforce the ordinance only on property open to the public.

Salt Lake City's approach to the problem is in contrast to the nature of the action taken by state government, which has apparently recognized the value of putting its money where its mouth is.

Before telling citizens they would be fined for letting their cars idle too long, Salt Lake City would have been wise, in a marketing sense, to clearly spell out all it is doing to reduce and manage emissions among its own considerable fleet. No sane person is in favor of dirty air, but the prospect of facing a fine is more easily digested if people are assured those who would levy the fine are doing all they can do to attack the problem, too.

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For example, are drivers confident that city, county and state agencies are doing their best to facilitate better timing of traffic lights at intersections where motorists line up and, yes, idle excessively? We all have a stake in clean air, but it is best we are assuaged first, admonished second.

The order to state employees to turn off their engines is commendable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it signals government understands the value of cleaning its own house first.