Editor’s note: This blog post is based on testimony given by Ryan Evans, vice president of business and community relations, to the Legislative Economic Development Task Force, Sept. 20, 2012.
Clean air is important to our economy and is truly a top priority of the business community, and became so about two years when we continually heard from economic development agencies and member firms that air quality was becoming more and more a concern.
The Salt Lake Chamber, Utah’s largest statewide business association represents 7,700 businesses and more than half of Utah’s workforce, has a long history with air quality issues dating back to the early 20th century so this is not a new issue, but it is a pressing issue. While we know that our air is cleaner than it has been in decades, it is imperative that we support efforts to comply with current federal air quality standards. Poor air quality hinders corporate relocation efforts, places additional regulatory burdens on business, increases health care costs and places Utah’s federal highway funding at risk.
There are two additional air quality-related challenges to our economy that are worth briefly expanding upon.
First, as one of the fastest growing states, it is critical that we protect infrastructure funding. Should we fall out of compliance we risk losing federal highway funding or control of how we spend it. So far, this state has done an impressive job of staying ahead of population growth and keeping commerce freely moving throughout Utah. Should we lose control over highway funding, we put this thoughtful planning at risk.
Also important is that we potentially subject Utah to having the EPA take over permitting and compliance responsibilities, amongst others, that the Division of Air Quality currently handles. There is no doubt in my mind that would result in greater regulatory burdens, and increased costs for business, potentially hurting our reputation as having the best business climate in the country. I think the majority of us would agree we’d much prefer state oversight rather than federal.
At the Chamber, we embrace four principles that guide our work in air quality:
1. Federal regulatory compliance. As I’ve already mentioned, reaching compliance will minimize regulatory burdens and protect federal highway funding.
2. Balance economic interests. We feel its important to be mindful of the costs placed on business as we strive for compliance.
3. We believe in Private sector solutions. Clean air makes good business sense and the business community will be a significant part of the solution. The Chamber, in fact, recently launched its Clean Air Champions program, a business led initiative to promote and recognize voluntary clean air practices for businesses. This initiative will work in partnership with Gov. Herbert’s UCAIR program and have statewide reach and scope.
4. Air quality as a tragedy of the commons. Our air is a shared public resource and is therefore susceptible to the tragedy that occurs when rational choices by individuals damage the common resource. In Utah, the vast majority of particulate matter comes from mobile sources and our homes. Business, citizens and government share the responsibility for our problems and each should do its part to clean our air.
With all that being said, where there are challenges, I believe there are opportunities. Both our Clean Air Task Force and policy team at the Chamber have been looking at what we can do from a policy perspective to compliment and enhance our private sector initiative. We are focusing on efforts and policies that spur meaningful action… Actions that “move the needle” to improve air quality.
The ideas I will suggest are just that—ideas. The Chamber is not advocating for these yet as more work will go into these concepts to determine what will have the most impact for each dollar spent and what D.A.Q. modeling indicates will be most advantageous to reaching compliance.
I’d like to first run though several tax incentives that we believe could seed change and produce economic benefit in the long run:
1. A meaningful tax incentive for the purchase of cleaner burning vehicles, Additionally, I would highly recommend an even deeper incentive for fleet conversation. Individual cars will help but shifting hundreds or thousands at a time will really make a difference.
2. Idle management systems- companies, such as Kennecott Copper have seen significant benefit to their bottom line and significant emissions reductions by having their fleet idle less. Exploring the idea of either an incentive or a low or no interest loan program to help offset the cost of needed hardware would produce favorable results.
3. Provide manufacturing tax credits for clean air technology production (which could be done as a post performance tax credit) or incentives to help offset the cost to purchase manufacturing equipment that reduces environmental impact.
4. Natural gas infrastructure assistance- Utah has an abundant supply of natural gas and the lowest natural gas prices in the nation. People will feel more confident in natural gas vehicles if we have an abundance of places to refuel.
5. Lastly on the incentive side, it might be good to look at a lawn and garden equipment replacement program that provides vouchers or rebates toward the purchase of low emissions equipment. Two stroke engines are awful emitters and whatever we can do to shift them out of use will prove beneficial. Such a program could be aimed at the individual level and for corporate lawn care needs.
The other area where we think legislative action could be helpful is public transit based solutions. We will be looking at the following:
1. Assistance to reduce fares
2. Funding to increase routes and accessibility
3. And lastly, the possibility of providing free transit on red air days. It appears there are a lot of side issues to consider for this but the idea of taking a great number of cars off the road on the 20 or so worst days is worth investigating and working on.
The economic impact of our efforts to preserve Utah’s clean air is real. The Salt Lake Chamber and our members are committed to helping to in this effort.