Holding signs and sporting surgical masks, dozens of Cache Valley residents rallied in front of the Historic Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon in support of clean air.
Many said they were “fed up” with the poor air quality that has pervaded the valley this winter, and they soon marched straight into the Cache County Council chambers to make their voices heard during a public hearing.
“I guess as a citizen, I’d really like to start seeing some action and some movement forward on policies and regulations that can clean up our air ... not for my sake, not for your sake, but for our kids’ sake,” said Mark Blaiser, director of the Bear River Watershed Council. “And there are a lot of small steps that can be done. The research is out there. Other communities are doing things. Los Angeles, for example — they have cleaner air than we do during the winter, and that’s sort of embarrassing.”
The vast majority of residents in attendance Tuesday indicated they want the council to pass a mandatory vehicle emissions testing program. Indications are that the body will adopt such a measure — perhaps as soon as the next council meeting March 12.
Megan Schwender, who spoke during the public hearing, asked the other attendees in support of emissions testing to raise their hands. Virtually all of those in the standing-room-only crowd did so.
“You have our support for emissions testing,” Schwender told the councilmembers. “We might be a little bit more silent than maybe we should be. ... Look around, because we’re your constituents. And there’s a lot of people out there in the lobby that you can’t see.”
Council Chairman Val Potter cautioned those in attendance that emissions testing alone will not solve the valley’s air quality problem.
“I think we all understand that vehicle emissions is part of the problem, but it’s not all of the problem,” Potter said. “A lot of people have said, ‘You have to pass this because we have this horrible problem.’ And they’re insinuating that this will solve the problem. This is not going to solve the problem. This is going to help, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”
Councilman Craig Petersen explained that the council is still waiting for a bill, sponsored by Logan Rep. Ed Redd, to clear the Utah Legislature. If passed, it would give counties more flexibility and thus enable Cache County’s planned six-year exemption for new vehicles to be in sync with state law.
On Tuesday, the bill unanimously passed the Utah House and now heads to the Senate.
“The reason we’re not going to pass it tonight is that ... it simply wouldn’t comply with state code,” Petersen said. “My guess is that at our next meeting, that we’ll pass this.”
Logan resident Henry Easterling, who currently attends Utah State University, sure hopes so.
“I think it’s really important for those of us that would like to build a future here that this is an issue we take seriously and that we stop this kicking down the line,” he said during Tuesday’s public hearing. “I know that obviously we’re facing some pressure from the federal government at this point because we’ve been in violation for so long of the basic national standards.”
Easterling said his patience may eventually run out, though.
“You know, I grew up here; my son was born here,” he said. “But if nothing’s done to fix this, I’m not going to sacrifice his health just to live here, and we won’t be living here.”