SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spent part of his Monday in a KC-135 refueling tanker, marveling not only at the military's new fleet of F-35 fighter jets but the spectacular aerial views of the state's landscape.
He said it occurred to him during the flight on the anniversary of Earth Day that "we need to make sure our home stays as pristine as possible."
Herbert detailed that to a crowd of lawmakers, advocates and others in the air quality arena during an afternoon ceremonial signing of 15 new air quality pieces of legislation passed during this last session. Lawmakers also made a historic $28 million investment of new money in the state's pollution fight.
"This is what we can do if we work together," Herbert said, noting the infusion of new money is the most Utah has devoted to the problem in state history.
"It is a signficant accomplishment and something that is probably past due," he said during the event at the North Plaza behind the state Capitol.
Even as the state ramps up its efforts to further reduce emissions, Herbert noted the strides already made.
The Salt Lake metro area, he said, is among the lowest in the country for per capita emissions among cities of a similar size, and while there are an average of 12 bad air days each year, the state only encountered one bad inversion day in 2019.
Industry, he added, has curtailed emissions by 47 percent since 1995 and state regulators put 30 new rules on the books to drive down pollution from businesses.
While noting much is left to be done, Alan Matheson, Utah Department of Environmental Quality's executive director, said lawmakers worked in a smart way with air quality staff to push legislation that would deliver the most reductions for the dollars.
Lawmaker directed new one-time money into paying for wood stove conversions, installation of more electric vehicle charging stations, creating a telework program for state employees and funds to change out the most polluting snowplows in Utah's arsenal.
Rep. Patrice Arent, a founder and co-chairwoman of the Clean Air Caucus, noted the diverse group of lawmakers involved in the caucus worked together to achieve passage of "significant" pieces of legislation.
Like others, the Millcreek Democrat echoed the acknowledgement that the fight is far from over.
"As we all know, we can and will do more," she said.
Correction: Photo No. 14 in the photo gallery misidentified Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, as Alan Matheson, Utah Department of Environmental Quality's executive director.