Written by Ronnie Citron-Fink
Every now and then you meet a person…a woman…an activist…a mother, who takes your breath away. You know instantly that this whirlwind of energy will stop at practically nothing to ensure that her cause stands front and center. She doesn’t fight because someone’s begged her. She doesn’t need an ovation from adoring fans. She doesn’t even do it for the money. She does it because she must. She must for the love of her children. She must for your children. And she must for herself. One such woman is Cherise Udell. Her humble mission is to clean up the air in her little slice of heaven, Utah.
Let me backtrack to how Cherise caught the attention of Moms Clean Air Force. Cherise contacted MCAF and asked if she could write a guest post about her fight to clean up Salt Lake City’s air. She said when winter comes to Utah the atmospheric conditions trap a soup of pollutants close to the ground and choke its residents.
Breathing Salt Lake City’s dirty air during a winter inversion is like smoking cigarettes…The doctors estimate that between 1,000 and 2,000 Utahans die prematurely each year as a result of our smoggy air.” ~ Cherise Udell
This super mom birthed Utah Moms for Clear Air on a two-second inspiration at her kitchen table. It began with a simple, but heartfelt email to about a hundred local moms inviting them to join the efforts to clean up the air. Thousands of moms later, Utah Moms for Clean Air uses the power of Mother Love to demand clean air for their families.
Cherise Udell thinks her children have the right to breathe clean air. Six years ago, the mother of two started an organization with that basic premise. Today, as the head of Utah Moms for Clean Air, Udell continues to operate an organization with only one ax to grind: cleaning up the air.
Despite the frequency of inversions during the winter, she can see progress.
“I have seen a huge uptick in public awareness. I’ve also seen a huge uptick in media coverage. The governor has to take it seriously now. He has to show he is addressing it,” Udell said.
Udell does not define herself as an environmentalist, and she hasn’t let Utah Moms for Clean Air become a fundraising organization, but she said there is momentum on the issue. She notes that, six years ago, her organization asked to meet with officials at Kennecott to address clean air. In talking about pollution caused by the idling of big rigs, Udell said a light went on for a local official, who noted they were being charged for the time the machines were on. Changes were implemented.
Now the issue of idling has progressed to being a political issue. Salt Lake City has implemented rules on idling, and Syracuse city has initiated a measure that would restrict idling city vehicles.
It is a small step, but the Yale graduate said each step matters.
Tailpipe emissions account for about half of our air pollution. A lot of those vehicles come from industry.
Udell drives a car with zero emission technology built in, which she hopes will someday be something more universal in vehicles, but she admits that is still only a small step.
Conversations about idling six or seven years ago didn’t exist. I see the signs now in Salt Lake. There is definitely a will to move that forward. I idled my car before I started Utah Moms.
Utah’s unique geography makes the target of cleaning the state’s air a moving one, Udell said, and often results in a reliance on weather patterns to determine how long the dirty air will linger, when it will be pushed elsewhere. She has a graphic way of describing what inversions and the abundance of polluted air is like for people living along the Wasatch Front:
We all live in this big toilet bowl that everyone is using, that no one can flush.
Utah Moms for Clean Air is not the only organization pushing the issue. Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment has addressed the issue from a health standpoint, and locally, the Davis County Community Coalition is actively pushing the clean air agenda.
The efforts have not gone unnoticed. State lawmakers created an air quality task force, which Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, claims will translate into new legislation this coming session. Gov. Gary Herbert has also launched an initiative called the Utah Clean Air Partnerships in an effort to raise awareness and set achievable goals. Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, says the matter of cleaning the air has to include business and individuals at all levels, not just government.
WATCH Cherise Udell and Utah Moms for Clear Air in action a few days ago on steps of Utah’s capitol:
READ MORE about Cherise Udell’s fight to clean up Utah’s dirty air: