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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
Attorney • 435-649-2525

Inversions Finally Getting the Attention They Deserve

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When I moved to Utah from the Midwest 20 years ago, I’d never heard of inversions; it turns out, the term “inversion” is a nice euphemism for smog.  Back then, no one talked about them much in Utah, especially if they were not caught in the middle of one that lasted for a week or more.

Inversions, or more particularly winter air inversions, occur when typical winter conditions of cool air above with warmer air below become “inverted,” or switched, with cool air trapped below warmer air.  The warmer air above traps fine particulates, or PM2.5, at valley floors in many areas of the west, and that is smog to you and me.  Once they set in, those inhabiting the smog zone must wait for a storm of sufficient strength to mix the atmosphere and clear the air conditions.

The three primary areas in Utah facing wintertime air quality challenges are the Wasatch Front, the Cache Valley and the Uinta Basin.  The good news is that over the last couple of years, Utah’s air quality issues have finally garnered the attention of the public.  The public outcry on the issue is a good thing.

One way attention has been drawn to the public health issue is “Bad Air Day: Play It Like ‘UCAIR‘,” an internet based game developed at the University of Utah (UCAIR is the Utah Clean Air Partnership).  The premise of the game is to let players pretend to be the mayor of Salt Lake City trying to collect votes by navigating a paper airplane through a changing 3D model of the city.  A player’s vote tally turns on the public policy decisions they make about air quality.

The available policy choices include wood burning bans for fireplaces, encouraging use of public transportation, and encouraging emission level reductions by lowering residential thermostats.  The game allows players to let the consequences of their policy choices play out in front of them.  Players who let inversion levels build, will have a more difficult time flying their plane through the city.  But players who promote cleaner air at the expense of voter convenience, will run into the “Wall of Public Anger.”  Both scenarios result in vote blocking for the player.

The goal of the game is to promote a better understanding of the air quality challenges that afflict the valleys of northern Utah every winter.  Since they seem to get worse every winter, it is none to soon.