Hundreds of Utahns gathered at the steps of the Utah State Capitol Saturday afternoon as they rallied for legislation to improve the air quality along the Wasatch Front.
“I’ve been working on clean air issues for the last three years,” said Carl Ingwell, the organizer of the Clean Air, No Excuses 2015 rally. “I really hope that this is kind of an historic air quality rally in Utah.”
According to 2013 statistics, the American Lung Association (ALA) ranked the Ogden-Clearfield-Salt Lake City area as the sixth most polluted city/cities in the United States affected by short-term particle pollution.
Short-term particle pollution refers to spikes in the levels of pollution, and according to the ALA, “Peaks or spikes in particle pollution can last for hours to days. Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise — these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”
Ingwell said when he first started working on clean air issues, he started an event on Facebook where he encouraged his friends to email the governor asking for a change.
“I noticed everyone on social media complaining about how bad the air quality is, and I thought that the complaints were a little misdirected. Complaining amongst ourselves doesn’t do much, but actually taking the time and energy that we put into complaining, and directing that in the right way I thought would make more of a difference,” Ingwell said. “At first, it was a few of my friends who joined on to do it, and then over time there were about 1,000 people that committed to doing it, and it just took off on its own.”
Several members of the Utah State Legislature spoke out at the rally, talking about how the people of Utah need to continue to push their legislators for clean air reform.
“You need to tell legislators that this is the way you want to spend your hard-earned tax dollars,” said Rep. Patrice Arent. “You want to spend it to clean up the air, and there can be no excuses.”
Along with members of the state legislature, local activists also took to the podium to speak out to the masses below.
“We are here as a community speaking truth to power that clean air and a healthy livable environment are human rights,” said activist Derek Kitchen. “We will not be satisfied with legislation that targets the simple pleasure of a home fire, but lets industrial polluters and dirty automobiles slide right through.”
Many different groups came out in support at the rally, including Utah Moms for Clean Air, Clean Air Now and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Mike Woodruff, who was at the rally representing Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, handed out leaflets throughout the crowd.
“It’s important to me because, first of all I have three kids who are growing up in this valley, and second of all I’m a physician, and I’m very familiar with the ill effects of PM 2.5 (particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) and other air pollutants,” Woodruff said. “I just don’t think our legislators have done enough to try and protect us from this problem.”
Woodruff said that he would like to see the legislature pass laws to help improve the air quality like enforcing stricter fuel standards, allowing the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to pass codes that are stricter than that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and putting a more widespread ban on burning wood.
“I think there’s a whole host of solutions, including a really … aggressive wood-burning ban,” Woodruff said. “I know everybody loves to smell burning wood and see a burning fire, but it’s really bad for you. It’s equivalent to smoking a lot of cigarettes.”
Currently in the Utah State Legislature there are several bills being considered that would affect Utah air quality, including HB0015, which would provide grants for Utah drivers to convert their cars to using cleaner fuels and HB0017, which imposes stricter penalties for cars that violate emissions limits.
Along with the rally in Salt Lake City, there were “Clean Air, No Excuses” rallies held in Moab, St. George and Logan on Saturday to create a widespread attention across the state.