Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Cache Valley's Air Quality

Cache Valley (where I live) has an air quality problem. Under normal circumstances our air is sweet and fresh. But in the winter, we get a weather phenomenon called "inversion" which traps a layer of cold air under a layer of warm air, basically sealing off the valley's atmosphere from circulation. Temperatures drop dramatically on the valley floor, and air quality does too. It normally takes a few days for the inversion to break, and during that time the pollution only gets worse. There is a system in place to warn people which days are high-pollution days, or "red burn days" (referring to whether or not we can operate wood burning stoves). But when it's so cold, we are more likely to start up the vehicle earlier to warm it up, and drive instead of walk in the bitter cold.

Now the EPA is threatening to bring its regulatory fist down on Cache Valley because our peak pollution levels are unacceptably high, so residents are being urged to cut back their polluting activities during inversion times. In a way this is unfair-- it's not like Los Angeles where we keep these high levels up all the time-- but (as they say) if you want life to be fair, you have to live at the fairgrounds. So leaders of every political stripe have been urging people to reduce the amount of pollution they put in the air. The next regulatory step would be to require emissions testing, which (it has been argued, and correctly IMO) would effectively be a regressive tax on those who can only afford "beater cars", which in this town means college students. And the college students are a huge part of the economy of the city of Logan. We've worked hard to make this town appealing to college students, and this would be a step backward.

A long while back (I think it was a year or two ago) I wrote a letter to the editor of our paper asking people to get involved in reducing air pollution in Cache Valley by carpooling, taking the bus, etc. We have an excellent, free bus system (no fares, funded by sales tax) in Cache Valley. I know most of my readers aren't in the Valley, but for those who are, I'd repeat my message. Carpool! Take the bus!

Unfortunately, it's an uphill struggle to get people around here to carpool. When horses were replaced by cars, the horse culture of the West was merely converted to a car culture. I didn't realize how deeply ingrained it is until I tried to set up a carpool last year for Tiny Princess to go to school. I called several parents who lived just blocks from my house, and when I mentioned I wanted to set up a carpool, their attitude was basically "Why would I want that?" Like it would be some major hardship on them to get their kid dressed and out the door without having to bundle all the rest of the kids into the car too...