In Utah, we value families, our children and our elderly. That means we care about their basic health. So when, in the winter of 2012-13, people in Salt Lake City were exposed to air pollution levels that exceeded federal standards for a total of 22 days, we realized something had to be done.
Individually, we can drive more efficient cars or burn less wood for heat. But that’s not enough. Especially in urban areas where most people are affected, whatever goes up into our atmosphere hangs around. We need action on a national scale.
That’s why, as a business owner in Utah, I support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules on carbon emissions from power plants not just to slow climate change but for our immediate self-interests too.
I believe the dangers of climate change are real: for example, how carbon emissions accelerate the shrinking of our snowpack, which threatens the water we drink and the tourism we rely on for jobs. But the more immediate downside of carbon emissions concerns me as well.
The impact of carbon emissions on the air we breathe is a major concern. First it affects the lungs, and then the wallet. If a company’s employees get sick and respiratory sickness tends to be high-impact and easy to trigger they can’t do their jobs well, which makes the business less productive. And when customers have to spend more on health care, they have less to spend on local businesses. Air pollution from power plants hurts our kids, our elderly, our workers and the economy in general.
In Utah, we have other reasons to protect air quality: Excessive air pollution spoils the views in our magnificent national parks and the awful smell can drive people away. These costs aren’t some far-off concern. We’re dealing with them now.
Of course coal has been a key part of the economy in Utah and has created lots of jobs. But when coal creates so many public costs, the price is too high. When the air we inhale contains too much CO2 from power plant emissions, everyone’s health is compromised. We need to study all the costs associated with coal, even as we recognize we can’t realistically do away with this energy source tomorrow.
Utah can’t solve this alone. Air pollutants easily blow across state lines, and EPA’s proposed carbon pollution rules will make sure every state plays by the same rules.
Local business owners need productive workers and suppliers. We need customers and visitors with money to spend. We also want our families to be healthy. These are all sound business reasons to reduce carbon emissions.
A big majority of small business owners agree. National, scientific polling commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) found that 64 percent of small business owners support government regulation to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. They know the risks, and they know we need to address them.
While EPA needs to establish a national CO2 reduction goal, the federal government should allow each state to figure out specifically how to meet these new standards. These rules would do that.
Utah could tap its natural gas reserves, which might be easier to reach than those in nearby Texas, and quickly transition from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. Other solutions might include finding a healthier, cleaner way to use our coal reserves. Or we could focus more on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Under the proposed rules, though, Utah will get to make these decisions, not the federal government.
Nobody loves mandates, but in this case they’re the only way to get the job done. Utah often has to deal with air pollution from other states, and federal rules will make sure that every state meets its responsibilities. These rules will also give businesses certainty about what to expect, so we can plan accordingly.
You’ll hear a lot of supporters of these rules talk about they will help fight climate change as a serious, long-term threat. That’s important to some Utah business owners like me, but we all can support these rules because the immediate costs and threats to our well being are right in front of us. Even short-term, these rules deserve your support. That’s not selfish, it’s common sense and good business!
Wilson is the owner of S3 Employee Engagement Software, based in Park City and President of P3 Utah, a network of businesses focused on sustainable business practices and policy advocacy.