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Time to treat air quality as a serious threat to Vegas economy

The elected officials in Carson City debate budget approaches that may allow us to address the core community ill of an under-performing education system. If they find enough cash, they’ll also take a bite out of the collateral challenge of being the largest urban area without a university-affiliated medical school.

Those are indeed important but today I’m concerned about another community ill that seemingly is beneath the radar. I’m talking air quality.

By way of full disclosure, I have a stake in this one. I wheezed through that latter part of March and all of April. Now that I’m feeling better, I’m seeing colleagues winding down. The boss was out; my lunch appointment called in sick; copy editors are dropping like flies.

First, we were told it was the result of an overactive pollen season caused by some extra desert rain. Then the American Lung Association blew the whistle on the overarching villain: air pollution. Late last month, the association gave the Las Vegas Valley a flat ‘F’ for ozone level. There were 19 days last year when our air reached the “unhealthy” level.

That was bad but the local response was worse. Officials — from the county to the Nevada chapter of the American Lung Association — downplayed the finding. The air quality is better than it was 14 years ago, they said. Great. We’ll get T-shirts and then start engraving that on tombstones.

The science of air quality keeps evolving. We’re able to measure smaller and smaller particles and track what damage they’re doing in our respiratory systems. What was healthy 10 years ago is now considered toxic. The Environmental Protection Agency is eager to set an even lower threshold and if it does, Las Vegas will be in deep trouble.

This is one of those places where science and politics collide. If Team Obama had its way, the EPA would force cleaner air through a series of Draconian steps that cost money and jobs. If you’ve noticed the afterburners on hamburger joints in California, you know what kinds of steps could lie ahead.

One estimate done less than a year ago said Nevada would find itself so far from goals that reaching attainment would cost every household $750 a year and cost the state economy more than 11,000 jobs.

Now that’s serious. It’s also not likely to come to that since Republicans are in control of Congress.

So that gives us a chance to solve this one ourselves. Now is the time for the governor to appoint a task force to study the situation and have proposals ready for the 2017 Legislature. Do we need to adopt California’s expensive special blend of gasoline for our cars year-round? Do we need to look at dust abatement, dry cleaning chemicals, restaurant exhaust?

The experts in the field are a few hours west of here in Diamond Bar at the Air Quality Management District office. Public officials visited Denver to learn about managing the marijuana business. The least we can do is tap into what California has learned about fighting air pollution.

The choices seem clear: We can get smart now or we can pay later — either in economic or health costs.

Meet Mr. List

One of the core competencies of any business publication is the lists.

Each week, we research and survey our way to bring you a snapshot of the business community, one sector at a time. One week, it’s the largest law firms; the next it might be architects or website design firms. Creating lists that are logical, fair, complete and accurate takes a rare mix of journalistic curiosity and librarian instincts. It’s not a career path for everyone.

That’s why we are delighted we were able to bring Ulf Buchholz aboard as our new researcher. Many on the receiving end of surveys already know Ulf from his years as research director at that now defunct In Business Las Vegas publication from the rival media company that shall go unnamed.

Ulf and I are committed to improving our performance in this area week by week, culminating in a strong Book of Lists in December. We’re both eager to hear any suggestions, comments and, yes, even gripes. Contact us at ubuchholz@businesspress.vegas or nbell@businesspress.vegas.

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