Monday, July 6, 2015

Clear the Air Challenge: Making Public Transit a Way of Life

By: Elisa Smith 

Elisa unwinds after a long day
by riding the train home.
Each year, the Clear the Air Challenge asks Wasatch Front residents to reduce their vehicle emissions by cutting down on their trips. We spoke with DEQ’s Elisa Smith, a “Top 5” winner of the 2015 winter air quality challenge, to learn how she makes public transit a way of life for herself and her family.

What prompted you to start using public transportation?

My husband and I got rid of our car six years ago. It was hard at first, but we decided it was a good choice for our family and the environment. My kids have never known anything different. My four-year-old even has all the TRAX stops memorized! Their cousins get really excited about “riding the train,’ but for my kids, it’s just the way we get around.

What would you say have been the biggest benefits for your family?

It’s been a great financial decision for us. We don’t have car payments and don’t spend money on gas, repairs, or car insurance. The money we’ve saved has made it possible for my husband to be a stay-at-home dad for our two kids.

We walk a lot more, and that has some real health benefits. We walk to and from the transit stops, to go shopping, and to run errands. We have even figured out how to get a week’s worth of groceries into our backpacks. We don’t even miss the car anymore because we’ve made sure we live in a place near transit where everything else we need is within walking distance.

Of course, we also feel good about helping the environment and doing our part to keep the air cleaner.

Has using transit changed your family’s lifestyle?

Elisa catches up on her reading
on the train.
We’re more relaxed. When you can’t just jump into the car to go somewhere, you have to decide what’s most important. It helps you prioritize and makes you plan. I’ve gotten pretty good at shopping online for the items we need instead of driving across town for them.

Riding transit to and from work also gives me time to transition between my job and home. I can read a book, listen to music, or just relax. Looking out the train or bus window gives me a different perspective; I notice little things that I would never see if I was driving by in a car.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to make the switch to public transportation?

Make the decision to do it and commit to it. If you take transit occasionally, it’s easy to make excuses to use your car instead. You have to take it seriously and give it a fair chance.

At first, it was hard to adjust to taking public transportation. Once you get into the habit of it though, it becomes second nature. It is wonderful to not fight traffic or search for a parking spot. Once you are comfortable with the system, you can arrive at your destination with less stress.

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

According to our air scientists at DEQ, if all the drivers along the Wasatch Front were to park their cars even one day per week, vehicle emissions would be reduced by 6,500 tons per year. It is pretty amazing to think about what could be accomplished if everyone parked their car even just a few times a week.

Taking public transportation can save you money, reduces stress, improves your health, and it also cleans the air! What are you waiting for?

Take the Challenge today! Check out the Clear the Air Challenge website to sign up. You can register as an individual or team up with friends, family, or co-workers, then use the online TravelWiseTracker to log your progress. Learn more about how you can use active transportation, carpools, public transit, “skip-the-trip,” telework, and trip chaining with the Challenge Toolkit.

I am the Administrative Secretary for the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation. I have been with the division for 10 years and really enjoy the people I work with. In my personal time, I love spending every moment I can with my husband and boys. We enjoy spending time in nature and going on “adventures.” We try to eat as plant-based and organic as we can to help both the environment and ourselves. 


Monday, June 29, 2015

Clear the Air Challenge: Join the Competition!

By: Ryan Evans, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

The Challenge is on!

The Clear the Air Challenge is a month-long initiative that encourages Utah residents to drive less and drive smarter during the month of July. Participants help improve air quality by avoiding trips alone in their car, using alternative modes of transportation such as carpooling, taking public transit, walking, biking, or trip chaining.

When you take part in the Challenge, you can log every trip you save in the online tracker and compete for great prizes by racking up the trips you eliminate, the miles you save, and the emissions you reduce. With approximately half of all emissions coming from motor vehicles, the Challenge is a fun way to do your part to improve Utah’s air quality.

In 2014, almost 7,000 people participated in the month-long Challenge. Collectively, participants saved:
  • 143,353 trips
  • More than 2.2 million miles
  • 668 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
Those are powerful numbers, but what’s more powerful is what we have done together over the six years the Challenge has run. During those six years — six months total — Utahns have eliminated:
  • 666,683 trips
  • More than 9.2 million miles
  • 2,953 tons of emissions
Imagine what we could do if we pushed ourselves all year round, if we all did a little more than we normally do with an eye towards improving air quality. Each of us can make a difference, and collectively we see that impact through the annual Clear the Air Challenge.

The Salt Lake Chamber and its partners challenge you to do drive down your miles this July for the betterment of our air and our quality of life. 

We’ve challenged you, now who will you challenge?

Sign up for the Challenge at and compete to be this year’s champion. Join an existing team or start a team of your co-workers, neighbors or friends. The winning teams not only get bragging rights, but they also receive the Challenge Trophy to display throughout the year!

The 7th Annual Clear the Air Challenge is made possible via the contributions of the Salt Lake Chamber, TravelWise, UCAIR, UTA, Intermountain Healthcare, Fidelity Investments, Rio Tinto, Salt Lake Comic Con, and Penna Powers.

I joined the Salt Lake Chamber in 2003 and currently serve as vice president of business and community relations. I serve as the staff lead on air quality issues for the Chamber, driving business support for clean air and oversee the Chamber’s Clean Air Champions program that promotes clean air practices for business, an Inversion Mitigation effort that reached more than 70,000 employees last year during inversion season, and Utah’s Clear the Air Challenge that encourages Utahns to drive less and drive smarter for one month each year. Additionally, I am a member of Governor Herbert’s Clean Air Action Team, the UCAIR Board of Directors, facilitate the Chamber’s Clean Air Task Force, and was recently asked to speak at the White House on the business community’s engagement and investment in air quality.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Collaborative Problem-Solving Helps Resolve Environmental Disputes

By: Michele Straube, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Escalante River Watershed Partnership field trip
I often start collaboration trainings with a thumb-wrestling exercise — “pin” your opponent’s thumb as often as you can in 15 seconds. At first, the pairs behave competitively, trying to overpower their partner. The total count for each player is low. After a little conversation, some pairs change their behavior, alternating “pins” as quickly as possible in each 15-second round. Their total count increases greatly. These pairs have discovered collaborative problem-solving.

Collaborative problem-solving is often referred to as an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or environmental dispute resolution (EDR) process. I like to think of it as an Additional Dialogue Required (ADR) or Even more Dialogue Required (EDR) process — hearing differing or opposing perspectives as a way to understand each other and find creative solutions that can work.
The work that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) does offers many opportunities for collaborative problem-solving. Regulations and policies are developed to solve or prevent problems, with a lot of room for creative thinking. They can be, and often are, developed collaboratively.

DEQ’s discretion in permit issuance and enforcement is more limited. The agency must determine whether or not the proposed activity meets all statutory and regulatory standards. Nevertheless, a collaborative problem-solving approach that does not exceed legal authority can be beneficial in these aspects of the agency’s work, helping to inform decisions that meet all needs.

I’d like to share with you some fundamental concepts for successful collaborative problem-solving.

Be inclusive and proactive

People resist decisions that are imposed on them. That’s just human nature. Effective collaborative problem-solving, especially when creating a new regulation or policy, needs to include the following parties:
  • Those who will feel the direct impact of the final decision.
  • Those who will have to implement it.
  • Those who have power to block a solution, be that legal, political, or community leadership power.
Leaving any one of the groups out creates uncertainty about whether proposed changes can and will actually happen in a timely fashion. Inclusive conversations need to start early in the decision-making process, before “preferred options” have ever been considered, and they need to occur often. Starting dialogue early ensures that the conversation is not a “sales pitch” for a predetermined result, but rather allows for constructive consideration of all possible alternatives.

Focus on collaborative learning and problem-solving, not on getting your way

Cross-Watershed Network Meeting
As the Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” Especially in complex environmental issues, there is no one entity that has all the information or all the answers.

Rather than assuming that there is a best solution to every problem (yours!), effective collaborative problem-solvers work together to gather as much information as possible to fully understand the issues, then explore a variety of options to craft solutions that have a real opportunity to fix the problem. They resist giving decision-making authority away — especially to a judge who will decide right or wrong — instead sharing the opportunity to create an effective solution with those who have to live with the results.

Strive for consensus

Consensus exists when every participant agrees that they can live with and will implement the solution. Striving for consensus encourages creative solutions and builds long-term relationships that can prevent conflict in the future.

When a process is set up to strive for consensus, there is no voting, no one has veto power, and there is no jockeying for power or advantage. Rather, it is clearly stated from the beginning that all participants agree to share individual responsibility to propose solutions that could meet everyone’s needs, not just suggest options that satisfy their own interests. No one can get away with simply saying “I don’t like that.” Instead, participants ask each other questions to explore why a particular option is not workable and keep tweaking the possible solutions until something acceptable is identified.

Consider using an impartial facilitator

Bringing opposing interests together to find mutually satisfactory solutions is not easy. Given strong personalities and passion for the issues, it can quickly turn into a free-for-all. A facilitator unaffiliated with any of the participants — someone with “no skin in the game” — can help design a collaborative process that guides the group through the minefield of learning together and brainstorming options.

Through confidential conversations with individual participants, often held before the dialogue starts, a facilitator can hear all perspectives and listen for common ground. During and between meetings, a facilitator is the group conscience, having the “difficult conversations” needed to keep the focus on collaborative problem-solving. There are many times when this role can be played by an agency staff person, but in situations of low trust and high conflict, an outside, neutral person will be more effective.

Collaboration done well is a magical and transformative process. I have seen former adversaries become allies and friends. I have seen them co-create solutions that no one party alone could even imagine, solutions that will be put into action without legal challenge or significant resistance.

If you’d like to learn more about collaborative problem-solving, visit our Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program webpage. Read our EDR Blog to find out more about the ways EDR has helped solve environmental conflicts and brought groups together to look for solutions through dialogue, mutual understanding, and respect.

I am the Director of the Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program at the Wallace Stegner Center, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. When not promoting the benefits of collaborative problem-solving, I go hiking to replenish my reserves of patience and optimism.