It's always a big deal for Utah to get into national news—especially the Sunday New York Times. It is one Big Fat Free Ad for Utah tourism.
But the state's boosters probably would have rather passed on the article in last Sunday's NYTimes that addressed in depth, the Wasatch Front's awful air quality.
After calling the state an "outdoor lover’s utopia," NYT went on to report Utah suffered 22 days this winter with pollution levels way over the federal air quality standards. The article included a photo of Salt Lake's hazy skyline that is sure to make readers' eyes water and throats' scratch. The tourism and recreation economy, of course, is a huge part of Utah's economic future and willful ignorance of that may cost Salt Lake City the lucrative Outdoor Retailer shows.
Bryce Bird, the director of Utah’s Division of Air Quality, told NYT what everyone except Gov. Gary Herbert seems to understand:
“Obviously, this is not acceptable. The public is fed up with it. The concern for them is that it is not being addressed fast enough.”
Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, piled on with:
“If the 40,000 women in Utah who are pregnant suddenly started smoking, that would constitute a genuine health emergency. But our levels of air pollution are causing the exact same consequences as if all these women were smoking.”
But Herbert seems more worried about simulating action—many allege it's because the governor's insatiable appetite for campaign contributions has made his office a wholly owned subsidiary of the state's heavy industry—than actually fixing the problem.
Instead of producing an aggressive initiative to address the problem, Hebert filmed a $60,000 public service message —paid for by Utah taxpayers— that tells Utah taxpayers that it is mainly their fault—which is, in part, true. About half the pollution is from commuting in cars and the other half from industry.
What Herbert, a former Realtor, is failing to do is to come up with a plan to attack the issue on all fronts—public transit, tighter regulation of industry emissions, fighting urban sprawl and so forth. The Democrats in the Legislature have done that, but it's unlikely Herbert will sign on to their plan.
And with the worst of the winter inversion season behind us, it's unlikely anything will move forward on the Hill. Why fix the roof when it's not raining?