Poor Air Quality Targeted On Hill as an Economic Obstruction

Traffic signs encourage Utahns to limit driving in early 2013

Air quality is becoming an increasingly important issue when it comes to luring new businesses and workers to the Beehive State.

In his 15 years of service, Jeff Edwards, President and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, has never seen it feature so prominently in decision-making. “If you’re relocating people from one part of the country to another, those folks have to make a decision just like anybody in this room would if they were going to move somewhere else. What is the right thing to do for me and my family? If air quality is an issue, or a perceived issue, that’s going to impact the ability we have to attract people.”

Edwards was among a handful of leaders who testified before the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee Wednesday about the impact of air quality on Utah’s economy.

Edwards pointed to several ideas that could help improve the situation, including building out the transit system, providing adequate funding for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and incentivizing companies with an air quality bonus.

Stephen Sands, chairman of the board of directors at the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), informed the committee that the organization has enjoyed some successes with its recent efforts.

UCAIR is approaching its third grant cycle and, so far, the group has awarded 20 grants totaling $550,000. Examples of UCAIR’s awards have been to provided funding for electric vehicle charging stations, education programs, Salt Lake City’s GREENbike program, and a “Bad Air” App developed with the University of Utah.

The group, in partnership with the DEQ and the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS), also administers the Air Assist Grant Partnership. Under this program, grants of up to $15,000 are awarded to small businesses with fewer than 1,500 employees to assist them in meeting air quality standards.

One program Sands touted was a gas can exchange that took place last month. UCAIR, partnering with Chevron, held events in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, and Weber counties, where residents could exchange their old gas can for a free environmentally friendly can. More than 7,000 cans were exchanged, which is the equivalent to taking 816 cars off the road per day.

In all, 56 projects have been funded during the past two years at a cost of $1 million. But there is still much to be done to stem the tide of bad air quality in Utah.

Edwards urged lawmakers to come up with a concrete plan to combat the issue. “This is a complicated problem and it absolutely needs your leadership as a legislature. If you are sending the message that this matters to you, that gets out to companies.”

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