Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Smog covers Salt Lake City as an inversion lingers on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.

Air quality is a top concern for Utahns because of the health, economic and lifestyle impacts that bad air has on our families, communities and businesses, particularly along the Wasatch Front. As much as 42 percent of our air pollution comes from mobile sources — the emissions that come from our vehicles — making our driving choices in integral part of the problem and the solution. To improve air quality, we need to provide people with tools, education and incentives to help individuals change their habits.

Not all vehicles are equally responsible for air pollution. Tier 0 and Tier 1 vehicles (generally vehicles model year 2003 and older) make up 19 percent of the vehicle population but account for 61 percent of the emissions. That means they are far dirtier than newer vehicle models. When those older vehicles fail an emissions test, they become at least 150 percent dirtier still — sometimes much more.

Last year, there were 44,831 older failing vehicles in Utah’s nonattainment counties. If we can replace these failing cars, we reduce emissions exponentially, even if the replacement car is not brand new.

My "Cleaner Car" bill, HB295 Vehicle Emissions Reduction Program, would give individuals an opportunity to take part in improving our air quality. This bill provides incentives to lower income owners of Tier 0 and Tier 1 vehicles that fail an emissions test in nonattainment areas, encouraging the retirement of the dirtiest cars on the road.

The program leverages federal funding already in place for a similar, Utah-designed Targeted Air Shed Program in Cache County and would apply to the vehicles in nonattainment areas for small particulate air pollution, including Cache, Utah, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Box Elder and Tooele counties. Incentives would range between $3,000 and $5,500 per vehicle in a sliding scale that is based on both income of the owner and the emissions standard of the replacement vehicle purchased.

According to a recent UCAIR survey, 52 percent of Utahns believe that individuals should take responsibility for cleaning up our air, but people need convenient and affordable options to be part of the solution for clean air. HB295 would make cleaner cars available for low-income Utahns who would otherwise be least likely to be able to afford cleaner options.

Air quality is an issue that impacts all Utahns. The American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report places some Utah cities among the nation’s worst for both ozone and short-term particulate pollution at certain times of the year.

Besides obvious health impacts and medical costs for Utahns living in and visiting areas with poor air, air quality threatens our economic strength by discouraging new businesses from moving to Utah and creating an obstacle to attracting skilled employees from out of state that are sorely needed to fill positions within Utah’s growing businesses.

Better air is essential to achieving sustainable growth in Utah. Air quality may also play a factor in decisions on important state contracts, such as Utah’s current Olympic bid.

Gov. Gary Herbert has asked that air quality be made a priority this year by proposing $100 million toward clean air measures in the state budget, including vehicle replacement assistance. The Vehicle Emissions Reduction program is a cost-efficient method of removing hundreds of tons of lifetime emissions from our air sheds.

4 comments on this story

Actions taken in previous years by the state Legislature have resulted in declining pollution levels despite growth in population and miles driven, but we must continue to take action to keep that trend going. With several counties still unable to achieve EPA standards for air quality and a population boom looming, we must look for ways to do more.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to prioritize clean air in 2019 and pass a number of good air quality policies being proposed this year, including the Cleaner Car bill to reduce vehicle emissions in the areas of the state with the poorest air quality.