Anyone who has lived in Utah for any period of time has seen, likely firsthand, the impact that poor air quality can have on someone’s health. Our poor air quality is mostly visible during winter months on days when warm air traps cold air to the ground, almost like a lid on top of a bowl. However, this “lid” doesn’t just trap the cold air; it also traps pollutants and other emissions, which is why it impacts our family members with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

While we can all see the impact of poor air quality on our physical health, poor air quality also has a negative impact on something else: Utah’s economic health. Many of our companies have reported having difficulty hiring workers to relocate to Utah, particularly when those visitors realize the impact that poor air quality could have on their health, or the health of family members.  

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As a co-chairman of the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus in the Utah House of Representatives, I am proud of the continual progress Utah has made during the last few years to improve air quality. We have demonstrated that cleaning up the air and spurring economy growth are not mutually exclusive. Both can be done simultaneously by growing the number of clean energy jobs here in Utah.  

The Clean Air Caucus has been instrumental in working with a range of experts to educate legislators about the importance of air quality, and provide market-based solutions for many of our environmental problems.  

In just the last few years, Utah has dramatically increased the size and scope of our clean air initiatives. Just last year, in fact, the Utah State Legislature passed legislation appropriating more than $29 million to a range of initiatives aimed at improving air quality across the state. These efforts include investments in electric vehicle charging stations, a conversion program to remove and replace wood-burning stoves from Utah homes, and even telecommuting options for state employees, to reduce the number of cars on the road. 

While these initiatives are critical to improving air quality, so is Utah’s clean energy workforce that has been growing. For example, at the end of last year, there were approximately 3.3 million Americans working in the clean energy sector in areas like energy efficiency, electric vehicles, clean fuels and renewables. In fact, from 2015-2019, these were some of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy.  

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than half a million workers in this clean energy space have lost their job. In Utah alone, our entire clean energy workforce is still down by almost 7%. For the health of Utahns, as well as the health of our economy, it’s critical that we find a way to get these hard-working men and women back on the job.    

This is why I am proud that Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed a proclamation recognizing that this week is National Clean Energy Week. This is commendable because it not only indicates our state’s commitment to growing our clean energy economy, but strong support for the thousands of men and women in clean energy jobs.  

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It is important to note that Utah is no stranger when it comes to supporting National Clean Energy Week. Congressman John Curtis is a chief sponsor of the federal proclamation commemorating this important designation. He recently gave an excellent presentation to the Sutherland Institute on this important issue, where he explained that clean energy should not be a partisan issue. It is simply an economic issue, and a matter of public health.  

The marketplace has proven that clean energy is not just “viable,” it is increasingly competitive with the traditional forms of energy. Moreover, its potential for growth will only increase as technology advances, creating new jobs and opportunities for our 21st century economy.

In order to fully realize the benefits of clean energy, we need to support Utah’s clean energy workers and help them get back on the job as soon as possible. Once we do that, our potential as a state will be unlimited. 

State Rep. Steve Handy represents Utah’s 16th Legislative District, and is the co-chairman of the Clean Air Caucus.

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