An Economist's View: Bad Air Quality Costs Utah Citizens Big In The Long Run

Oct 3, 2019


Salt Lake City shrouded in smog

The University of Utah will be hosting a symposium on Thursday about air quality in the state. Dr. Steve Bannister will be a guest panalist. He studies the economic influence of air quality in Utah and around the world.

“There’s a very high correlation between proximity to bad air quality, especially in schools that are close to major transportation arteries - interstates and so forth - and the children there have higher attendance problems, on bad air quality days increasingly they’re not allowed to go outside for exercise, and all of that affects educational outcomes negatively.”

Dr. Bannister says that the major contributor to air pollution in Utah is automobile transportation. 

“So, it’s automobiles and trucks. And they spew out all kinds of greenhouse gases and other admitents that contribute to poor air quality,” he said.   

Using public transportation is one way Utahns can help to reduce air pollution.

“You really have to make the transportation system very extensive and reduce fares.”

The true cost of free or inexpensive public transportation may be outweighed by the benefits.

“You can quantify the cost of free fares, but then you should also quantify the benefits, including the reduced illnesses and the reduced absences in schools that would be improved by better air quality,” Bannister said.

Another option is to switch to electric cars.

“We’re never going to get rid of automobiles entirely. The solution there is to strongly encourage electrifying the automobile fleet," he said. “So there’s two types of benefits in terms of cleaning up the energy sources. One is this local problem that we have in the Salt Lake Valley because of inversions. And then there’s the more general problem that carbon dioxide contributes eventually to global warming. And when you get rid of carbon-based fuels you clean both of those up.”