Just hours before a storm was scheduled to roll into the valley to break up the first inversion of the winter season, the Salt Lake Chamber hosted over 100 business leaders to make the business and economic case for clean air.
“Part of our mission at the Chamber is to champion community prosperity,” said Natalie Gochnour, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber. “Our work to clean the air does that by improving health and boosting our economy.”
Air quality is an important economic issue. Poor air quality hinders corporate relocation efforts, places additional regulatory burdens on business, increases health care costs and potentially places Utah’s federal highway funding at risk. With more than half the air pollution coming from vehicles, the business community can make a difference.
“Every business that considers coming here wants to talk about quality of life,” said Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. “Clean air is very important for employee retention and for a corporate image—all things businesses consider when they decide to come here.”
“The clean air issue will only be solved by business, and if we don’t solve it we can’t sustain our business,” said Kelly Sanders, president and CEO of Rio Tinto, Kennecott Utah Copper. “It truly is an opportunity for us to provide a solution to the problem.”
Cutting down on dust and other pollutants at the Kennecott Copper Mine requires continued innovation. Rio Tinto has increased the amount of weight its trucks can move for the same mileage by 50 percent. An idle time reduction program reduced 20,000 tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking 3,700 cars off the road and saved Rio Tinto $5.5 million and 1.8 million gallons of fuel.
“It’s very easy to look at the cars and say it is someone else’s problem,” said Sanders. “We need to come up with the solution as a business community.”
The panelists agreed the private sector must play the critical role in addressing air quality and the effort will have wide-ranging benefits.
“Change is driven by special interests,” said Alan Matheson, the state’s senior environmental advisor. “The good news is the special interest in this case is everyone who likes to breathe.”
Matheson said the state is working on a number of clean air related initiatives and continues its commitment to the Clear the Air Challenge. The Clear the Air Challenge is a program that encourages Utahns to cut down on the amount of miles driven and to better utilize mass transit alternatives.
The panel also discussed Utah’s natural gas supply and the opportunities to enhance air quality and to significantly increase the use of CNG vehicles and the contribution that makes to air quality.
Currently 120,000 vehicles in U.S. run on natural gas compared to 20 million vehicles powered by natural gas worldwide. While the national number is lagging in this area, Utah has been a leader in the continued development, especially with the investment in the natural gas corridor. There are now 27 natural gas vehicle stations in the state with two more on the way, one in Kaysville and one at Weber St. University.
“We have been lagging in this area but we have seen a substantial shift and the deployment of infrastructure for CNG vehicles is underway,” said Craig Wagstaff, senior vice president of Questar. “We need to develop this resource wisely and in a responsible way.”