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Utah Gov. Herbert skips clean air challenge participation

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert formally challenged everyone in Utah to drive a little less this past month to help improve the state's air quality — but it's a challenge he didn't take himself.

The Associated Press has learned Herbert didn't participate in the Clear the Air Challenge he helped promote, despite asking in a letter for state employees to join him in it.

"I'm writing today to ask you to join me in the 2010 Clear the Air Challenge — a monthlong competition that encourages all Utahns to improve the quality of the air we breathe," Herbert wrote on June 28.

"I've encouraged my staff in the governor's office to participate in the challenge, which runs from July 1 to July 31. Now, I am asking all state agencies to create their own teams to compete in the challenge."

Many state agencies and employees responded to the call, although the governor's immediate staff did not create its own team.

Herbert was one of three figureheads — along with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Herbert's Democratic rival Peter Corroon — who were at the forefront of promotional efforts. They encouraged state residents to reduce their vehicle emissions by combining multiple errands into one trip, taking public transportation, carpooling or by walking or bicycling more frequently.

Most of Utah's air pollution is caused by vehicle travel and during the winter it is not uncommon for the state to have the worst air quality in the nation.

At a June news conference, Herbert told reporters, "The clean air challenge is a challenge to everybody — all Utahns — to see what you can do to change your habits."

Challenge results show Becker and Corroon cut down on thousands of pounds of emissions during that period. The Salt Lake City Mayor's Office, which administered the challenge program, said Herbert did not have a personal account.

"Governor Herbert is and continues to be conscientious about making the most of his miles traveled, whether or not he is participating in a formal program," Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said in an e-mail to AP on Tuesday. "Unfortunately, the nature of his schedule and his security concerns don't allow him to walk to work, as much as (he) would like to do so."

The governor's mansion is in one of Salt Lake City's safest neighborhoods and is about a mile from the Capitol. A free Utah Transit Authority bus runs part of the route.

Welling did not elaborate on what security concerns Herbert has or indicate why his schedule kept him from formally participating. It wasn't uncommon to see former Gov. Jon Huntsman walking or riding his mountain bike in the area.

The Clear the Air challenge did not require participants to stop using automobiles, which are driven by his security detail.

Corroon, who lives a few blocks from the Governor's Mansion and is Salt Lake County's mayor, said Herbert's lack of participation is another example of the governor not taking environmental concerns seriously.

"I think it is important to set the example as elected officials and also to send a message that even people who have traditionally busy lives can be involved in helping clean the air," said Corroon, who saved nearly 3,000 vehicle miles primarily by carpooling with campaign staffers.

"I wouldn't call it hypocritical, but I think it shows a lack of commitment."

Becker said while he also felt compelled to participate in the challenge, he wouldn't knock anybody who didn't.

"I really think each person needs to make their own decision of what they're comfortable with. I really don't want to judge anyone else's decision," he said.