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Utah's Roadmap To Cleaner Air

Photo of air pollution over Salt Lake City.
Brian Albers
In Utah and throughout the western U.S., heat waves are becoming more common, snow is melting earlier in the spring and dry conditions contribute to more-frequent and more-severe wildfires, according to a new report.

As Utah confronts the accelerating risks of climate change, the state now has a plan for action. 

Led by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, a team of researchers, lawmakers and industry experts recently unveiled what they’ve dubbed the Utah Roadmap, a set of recommendations intended to help the state improve air quality and address the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years.

The report laid out seven “mileposts” to get there, starting by formally adopting two major goals: cutting pollution emissions by 50% and carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Other markers include expanding state incentives to put more electric vehicles on the road and making faster progress towards the Wasatch Choice 2050, a sustainability plan to address the state’s rapid population growth. 

But each recommendation is just that. The roadmap is intended more as a loose guide for state lawmakers rather than a set of specific policies. 

“There's some squishy things here,” said Utah Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton. “It's going to require some drilling down. But I think that we have kind of a starting point.” 

Take the third milepost, for instance. The report suggests the state create a climate solutions-focused laboratory to conduct research, improve environmental monitoring and spur innovation. 

It’s one of the most interesting proposals, Handy said, though it’s not clear how it would work or where it would be. 

“I think you start with an appropriation,” he said. “You get some money, a couple million bucks perhaps, and you hire some people to put the thing together.”

Climate change has already hit Utah. The state has warmed 2 degrees over the last century, according to the roadmap. The report’s authors said a course of action is critical not only to fighting harmful health effects that climate change brings — air pollution alone impacts child asthma, heart disease, and brain health — it’s essential for maintaining Utah’s strong economy. 

“For me it’s not a binary issue,” said state Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “The national parks, the recreation areas — you cannot take those out of why people come here to do business.”

It’s a consideration that will also require legislators take a deeper look at some of the state’s major development projects, such as the inland port, Briscoe said. 

Royal DeLegge agreed that the report is a critical first step for the state. He is the environmental health director of the Salt Lake County Health Department and was part of the roadmap’s advisory committee. He said while the plan’s goals don’t match more ambitious ones set by several local governments within the state to reduce emissions by 2030, progress is slower at the state level. 

“That is the trend across the country,” he said. “You have to get people on board with the acknowledgement that this is an issue we must address. And then as time goes on, we can ramp up to meet more realistic goals.”

The report will be open for public comment until Jan. 27. A final version will be presented to the Legislature at the end of the month.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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