Utah Residents Learn About Alternative Economic Solutions To Bad Air Quality

Mar 6, 2018

The Cache Clean Air Consortium hosts regular events that enable residents to learn about and become involved with improving their local air. Their events include the annual high school Clean Air Poster contests, bike challenges and expert talks. 

Last month, they hosted research from Utah State University that applies environmental taxation theory to air pollution along the Wasatch Front.  

“You can choose the adjective, is it bold, is it naïve, I don’t know, but to say if I took a classical approach to trying to solve this problem it would be seasonal gas tax,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of economics at Utah State University.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Mobile-Source Episodic Air Pollution, known more commonly as vehicle emissions, is the primary contributor of fine particulates in the state. Accounting for as much as 48 percent of emissions.

“It’s a very challenging problem for economists because it’s mobile-source so you can’t measure exactly what’s coming out of tailpipe on any given car like you can out of smokestack from a factory,” Caplan said.  

A consumer pays for gas at the pump, where environmental cost is typically not factored in.
Credit Jennings

Caplan says these types of problems are also difficult to design policies for because of aversion to the costs. 

“Historically in this country we haven’t had an appetite for taxation, particularly environmental taxation. We prefer the permit trading approach,” he said.

Caplan says permit trading has been successful in other areas of the country with regards to pollutants such as sulfur dioxide. However, from an economist’s perspective he believes that an environmental tax would have more immediate benefits on air quality.

While the research is speculative, an actionable item currently being discussed in the legislative session is Utah Democratic Representative Patrice Arent’s House Bill 101, which proposes an amendment to Air Quality Emissions Testing. The bill was recently passed in the House.

To follow the progress of HB 101 during the 2018 Legislative Session visit here