Something needs to be done to fix the state’s bad air

Feb 16 2013 - 11:38pm

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Thursday morning the nice man on NPR said the air pollution index for Weber County was double the federal standard for "this stuff will kill you."

I told the boss I was going to seal the windows with duct tape and plastic sheeting left over from the Gulf War gas attack scare and work from home.

This pays off double. There's beer in the fridge and I'm not adding to the problem by driving the car.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining, but the air really is horrible. Maybe I'm just miffed because I've had to start a third round of antibiotics for a lung infection that refuses to go away. It has found a snug place down there, settled in and set up housekeeping.

The doctors tell me infections love inflamed areas where it's warm and moist. It is well-documented that Utah's winter air pollution, unburned hydrocarbons carrying a potent mix of dangerous chemicals, causes inflammation in all body tissues, not just lungs.

In you, too. How's your asthma? Using that inhaler more, maybe had to upgrade to a nebulizer, steroids, buy a humidifier, a home air cleaner?

Everyone I know is complaining. They've got a cold or nagging cough that won't go away. Even the otherwise healthy have a nagging tickle, an evening headache. The body does not like spending the day inhaling poison.

The Legislature is on the job. It's pondering a bill to make it illegal to smoke in your car if there are children in it. We must protect the children, but given the quality of the air outside the car, maybe they should also make it a felony to drive with the windows open.

Gov. Gary Herbert has adopted a strict policy of speaking firmly against pollution and criticizing environmentalists who fail to ride bicycles to his office. Herbert, let it be known, has a limo you and I pay for.

Think we'll ever slow down road building and emphasize mass transit? Don't hold your breath. (OK, maybe you should.) Some of Herbert's, and lawmakers', biggest campaign contributions come from road construction and automobile industry sources.

Lawmakers do worry about road funding. Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, has proposed a legislative task force to figure out how to cover an $11 billion shortfall in Utah's cities and counties for road maintenance over the next 20 years.

"It's also tens of billions of dollars for the state to maintain its very good system of roads," he said. But please note: He's not just saying that, he's forming a task force to figure out how to fund it. Action!

Wouldn't it be nice if lawmakers looked at the costs of cleaning up the air and said, "OK, how do we fund that?" and actually figured out a way?

They could mandate tighter industrial pollution controls, but offer a tax break for doing so. Or take $100 million of highway building money and use it to build more light rail, such as a street car looping around Ogden. Fewer cars need fewer roads.

Or we could all just seal ourselves up in our homes with duct tape and plastic.

Or flee.

Thursday night, my sister in Los Angeles sent me air quality index maps for Utah and L.A. The Wasatch Front was, of course, deadly red. L.A., after decades of concerted cleanup effort, was a nice healthy green.

She also included a list of flight times to go down there.

Pretty sad when you have to leave the Rocky Mountains and go to L.A. for clean air.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can reach him at 801-625-4232 or email ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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