SALT LAKE CITY -- A bipartisan group focused on cleaning up Utah's air couldn't have chosen a better backdrop Wednesday to make a case for legislative action to deal with air quality issues.
A press conference held on the south steps of the Capitol was blanketed with a film of smog as the inversion continues to increase along the Wasatch Front. More than a dozen members of the House Clean Air Caucus used the setting to discuss legislative proposals tackling the air quality issue. There are currently 15 separate pieces of air quality-related legislation, with the possibility that may grow. The Legislature's 45-day session convenes Monday.
"None of us want our air to look like it is today. We don't want our cities to be listed among those that have the worst air in the nation," Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, said. She said the poor air quality does damage to the personal health of Utahns and also hurts the state's economy.
"Our state is beautiful but many of our visitors to Sundance are not seeing the best of what Utah has to offer and that certainly impacts our economy," she added. She is one of six caucus co-chairs.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, another of the co-chairs, said it will be important for legislators to identify and act on air quality measures. He predicted with growth, air quality will be in an issue in all parts of the state, not just along the Wasatch Front.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said lawmakers need to look at every possible approach to cleaning up the air, since there is not one sweeping solution to the problem.
"We know we can't control the geography we live in or the high or low pressure systems that come into our state, but we can control what we pump into the air during inversions," Draxler said.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, pointed to the caucus as an example of how Utah lawmakers can work together on issues important to people of the state.
"We are not Congress. We actually work together to find solutions in the best interest of the people of Utah. We agree on a lot of things. This is one of those issues where we have come together," Lockhart said.
The 15 bills include proposals being run by House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, and Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.
But the list includes a number of Democrat-sponsored initiatives as well, including five separate proposals from Arent.
Gov. Gary Herbert has also indicated the issue will be a priority. In releasing his tentative budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, he included funding for school bus replacement, money for air quality research and money for grant funds for small businesses to tackle the issue.