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KUER News and RadioWest are bringing you a series of stories and conversations on Utah's air. It's easy to look at the haze on a red air quality day and say that something needs to be done about it. But what? We'll be talking about the roles that individuals, industry and government can play in cleaning up Utah's air quality. We'll also look at what the costs may to be to our economy and our health if we don't.

Lawmakers Unveil Air Quality Bills

Utah lawmakers say their new package of bills will help clear the air, especially on smoggy days like Wednesday.
Judy Fahys
Utah lawmakers say their new package of bills will help clear the air, especially on smoggy days like Wednesday.

A bipartisan caucus of Utah House members has unveiled a package of air-pollution bills. They say the proposals will Utah’s air easier to breathe. The measures include incentives for consumers to buy cleaner snow-blowers and weed whackers. There is one bill that would ban medical waste incinerators in the state. Another proposal would allow the state to authorize environmental regulations that are more rigorous than federal laws.

“It’s going to be quite an education process," says Layton Republican Rep. Stephen Handy. "But I believe the public who values and wants to improve air quality will the their legislators know this is a top priority,” says Handy.

At this time last year, there were no air quality bills filed before the session. This year there are already 15 in some phase of drafting. And even more could be proposed. The heightened awareness on the hill is partly a response to the public outcry last year after a long winter of dirty air. It’s also a sign that leaders want to preserve a quality of life in Utah while allowing development to continue.

“I think the public has been a big part of this," says caucus co-chair and Holladay Democrat Patrice Arent. "I can tell you I get more email now about air quality than I do about education, which is a very critical issue. The public is very concerned. And this is not just affecting the health of the members of the public. It’s affecting our economy, and I think that’s why some of the legislators are involved," says Arent.

The single measure that is expected to have the biggest impact on Utah’s air quality hasn’t been written yet. It’s the budget bill lawmakers will write during the 45-day legislative session. Governor Gary Herbert has proposed $18 million to beef up air programs. That’s a big contrast to past years when the Legislature cut back on air monitors and air-division staff. The legislative session begins on Monday.

Copyright 2014 KUER 90.1

Judy Fahys is KUER's reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism collaborative that unites six stations across the Mountain West, including stations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana to better serve the people of the region. The project focuses its reporting on topic areas including issues of land and water, growth, politics, and Western culture and heritage.