Utah Receives Neighborly Advice from Mexico on Air Quality During Trade Mission

Pete CodellaNews

Governor Gary R. Herbert, with key Utah leaders, scheduled a serious discussion with Mexican authorities around the topic of air quality during the trade mission to Mexico. Mexico City has had to deal with significant air quality issues of their own over the last two decades. Thanks to the insights shared, the Utah delegation will return home from the trade mission with new ideas for improving air quality in the state.

Mexico, once touted as the most polluted city in the world, has managed to cut most of its pollution components in half in the last 20 years, despite a growing population of more than 20 million. Realizing the wealth of knowledge Mexico has to share on the topic of air quality, the International Trade and Diplomacy Office (ITDO), housed in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, worked with the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) and the Governor’s team to schedule an environmental roundtable with Mexican officials and environmental experts during which substantial discussions were held.

Ted Wilson, director of UCAIR noted that the Mexico City meeting is a way to look at an issue that is similar to ours which exists internationally. Although Mexico runs a higher level of ozone than we do we suffer from PM 2.5 particulate matter.

“A really important part of this trade mission is the Governor’s remarkable vision to seek international collaboration,” said Wilson. “We appreciated our discussions with the Mexican leadership and how they worked with their population to gain engagement. People do not like “edicts” but if properly done people will make an effort, voluntarily, if they understand the nature of air quality and how they contribute to it.”

Sponsored by the Impact Hub and through the good graces of Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, the Environmental Roundtable was held at Mexico City Hall where the U.S. delegation was joined by city ministers of environment, science, transportation and the general director for urban pollution of the National Institute for Climate Change along with other Mexican officials that have been heavily involved in improving Mexico City’s air quality over the last decade. The representatives from the Utah delegation included Ted Wilson, director of UCAIR, Michelle Hofmann, cofounder of Breathe Utah, and Jeff Edwards, CEO of EDCUtah.

The discussion agenda included technology/innovation, health concerns, transportation/infrastructure, and policy framework that will contribute to cleaning Utah’s air.

To be prepared for the environmental roundtable, a forum, christened A Breath of Fresh Air, was held at the Impact Hub in Salt Lake City on April 2. Impact Hub is a coworking space, event venue and business incubator that provides a forum to unite for-profit and non-profit organizations to create innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging problems. The formal meeting explored ways in which Utah entrepreneurs, creatives and investors can collaborate and innovate to curb pollution and clean the air. During the meeting, the innovators in attendance came up with solutions and then shared them with a panel of local air quality leaders.

Some of the serious measures Mexico took to improve air quality in the 1990’s include improved public transportation, chemical monitors, no driving days and an oil refinery shut down. Since the nationally owned plant in Mexico did not have the significant pollution controls U.S. plants must meet currently, Mexican officials decided to rebuild a new plant outside of the capitol with the new standards in place rather than try retrofitting the existing older plant. These actions resulted in Mexico’s air quality improving from three clear air days a year to more than two hundred. With geography similar to Utah, Mexico has proved with diligence, hard work and commitment from residents, it is possible to clean the air.

“We are lucky to have the opportunity to learn from a valued trade partner and neighbor about their experience with air quality improvement,” said Harvey Scott, Director for ITDO. “Rather than blindly navigate our own path, Utah has chosen to learn from Mexico, a country that has firsthand experience in successfully reducing pollution and improving the quality of life for its residents.”

Once the delegation returns from Mexico, there will be a third air quality session hosted by Impact Hub to recap all that was learned during the event in Mexico and find ways to implement changes.