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Health, Science & Environment

Air Quality Bills to Focus on Changing Utahns’ Behavior

Andrea Smardon
State Democratic Representatives Brian King, Joel Briscoe, and Patrice Arent at a 2013 air quality rally on the steps of the Utah State Capitol.

Utah’s air quality issues became evident early this winter, and state lawmakers are working on a number of bills to address the problem. Most of them are focused on getting Utah citizens to change their behavior.

Air pollution was reportedly a hot topic at the most recent Utah Republican House caucus. But Republican Representative Jim Nielson of Bountiful says it’s not a partisan issue, and lawmakers have been working together to address it.

“There aren’t any Republican or Democrat pollution days. They affect all of us,” Nielson says. “I’ve been working closely with a group – we call it the House Air Quality Caucus - and I think we’ll see some meaningful legislation.”

Nielson is co-sponsoring a bill with Democrat Patrice Arent to raise awareness about the harmful effects of wood-burning, to help people to convert to other sources of heat, and to better enforce wood-burning bans. There is legislation to help schools convert to low-pollution buses, and to incentivize people to convert to electric cars and to use mass transit. Nielson says there is no single solution that will clean up the air, but he says individual choices have the greatest impact on the pollution in the valley.

“The significant challenges have to do with tail pipe emissions, wood-burning, and your snow blower - all those types of things. Those are the biggest items. Some of those are going to change only with behavior," Nielson says. "If people become more conscious of that, that will make a big difference.”

Nielson says improvements in technology and government regulation also have a role to play in cleaning up the air. The only bill addressing industrial pollution that lawmakers can point to so far is one that would ban the burning of medical waste in the state.

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