SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll shows Utah residents overwhelmingly want less polluting, more energy efficient homes, cars that have a better smog rating and to use transit more and drive less if that's what it takes to effectively address the air pollution problem.
The trick, most agree, will be if residents can transcend from a place of "wanting," to doing — a transformation that results show is accomplished via a combination of methods that include new building codes for homes, having access to the cleanest cars manufactured and walkable communities.
"Utahns get the problem," said Robert Grow, president of Envision Utah. "They understand and they are willing to to make significant changes and we are in a place where those significant changes are ahead of us if we continue to build momentum."
Poll results on air quality are part of the Envision Utah "Your Future Your Utah," outreach that garnered responses from nearly 53,000 people in what is described as the nation's most successful public engagement effort because of its level of participation. Residents were asked to choose from a number of scenarios depicting how life might look like 2050 when it comes to key issues of concern such as education, transportation and energy development.
Grow said air quality, nearly more than any other issue, sparked strong sentiment among Utah residents who made clear they want more done on the air pollution front.
"Air quality affects our lives in so many signficant and emotional ways," Grow said, "impacting our health, our families health and our ability to enjoy the outdoors. "
Grow added that it is signficant that an overwhelming majority of Utah residents are willing to take specific actions to address the problem. As an example:
• 91 percent are willing to pay more upfront for more energy efficient, less pollution-producing homes
• 85 percent are willing to make their next purchase of a car a vehicle model with a higher smog rating
• 82 percent are willing to refrain from burning wood burning stoves during an inversion
• 75 percent are willing to drive less and take more public transit to reduce individual contributions to the airshed
Air pollution modeling done by the Utah Division of Air Quality shows that even with increased regulations on industry and the advent of more "Tier 3" cleaner-burning cars on the road, homes and buildings will become the chief source of air pollution by 2050, when the state's population is expected to nearly double.
"Over the last 40 years industry has gotten cleaner, cleaner and cleaner as have cars and automobiles and now the big challenge for places like us, the next big target is going to be our homes and our buildings," Grow said.
Utah residents picked a scenario in which all new buildings are 50 percent more energy efficient, which is welcome news to Utah Clean Energy's Kevin Emerson.
Emerson, the organization's senior policy and regulatory associate, has been pushing for legislative adoption of the latest international building codes for new homes, an annual lobbying effort targeting Utah's lawmakers.
The 2015 codes are under consideration by the Utah Uniform Building Code Commission, which is having a public hearing Oct. 7 on the issue. The commission ultimately will make a recommendation to the Utah Legislature for possible action in the next session.
Emerson, who sits on the commission, said a study requested by the Governor's Office of Energy Development and done by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — an independent third party — showed that an average home built to the latest codes will save homeowners $300 a year in lower energy costs.
Those homes built to more efficient standards that address insulation, more energy efficient lighting, using larger boards and reducing leakage of air ducts cost anywhere from $1,000 to a little more than $3,000 more than other homes, Emerson said.
"And it takes only two years for the homeowner to be cash flow positive."
Beyond a traditional fireplace, Emerson said homes have two other fireplaces that are burning year round — the water heater and furnace.
Last month, the Utah Air Quality Board adopted tighter standards for gas-fired water heaters, requiring purchases made after Nov. 1, 2017, to be for appliances that emit lower levels of fine-particulate causing nitrogen oxides.
But more needs to happen beyond the regulatory front — Grow and others say personal habits an overhaul.
In the Envision Utah poll, 75 percent of Utah residents indicated they want emissions reduced by 40 percent, which would be well within health standards but would require significant changes.
"We need to translate our desire for clean air into changes in our behavior to improve our air quality," said Alan Matheson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "No one is off the hook...Unless we address air quality on all fronts, it is going to be hard to really achieve the air quality goals that we have."
Envision Utah will take survey results from the 11 topic areas and formulate a statewide blueprint for action to be released later this fall. One remaining topic area — jobs and the economy — remain to be released.
The blueprint Envision Utah will create is designed to guide state and local elected officials and public policy experts as they craft strategies to balance the demands of population growth with maintenance of quality of life standards.
"If you look at the future growth of Utah and its economic development and the ability of people to have their families and quality of life, the two big show stoppers that can trip us up in having the kind of life we want is water and air quality," Grow said. "We can do everything else, but if we don't have water and we don't have clean air, we will not end up with the kind of Utah we want. In my view they are the two large, signficant issues we must fix."
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