By Cherise Udell
Our Birth Story
As a mother of two small children, I was horrified by the dangerous quality of Utah’s air in the winter of 2006-07. The air was so polluted it smelled like smoke, sulfur and gunpowder and it left a nasty metallic taste in your mouth. Visibility was so poor, you could not see either of the gorgeous mountain ranges along the Wasatch Front. On Red Alert days I felt as if I was locking my daughters in a windowless room full of chain smokers…
And sure enough, a new group called Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) held a press conference that winter confirming that is, indeed, exactly what we’re doing to our children.
In their press conference, UPHE warned us that breathing Salt Lake City’s dirty air on a Red Air day is virtually the equivalent of smoking half-a-pack of cigarettes. As a non-smoker, this made me want to gag. As a mother it just made me mad.
My toddler was being forced to smoke? My rosy-pink cheeked baby was being forced to smoke?!
I imagined a cigarette dangling from the nearly toothless mouth of my youngest daughter. This debasing of innocence and purity was enough to move me to action. Utah Moms for Clean Air was born that day with a simple but heartfelt email to about one hundred moms inviting them to join together to make Utah’s air cleaner and safer.
The response was phenomenal. Within minutes of hitting the send button I started getting replies from other mothers. “Please count me in,” they said. “We must do something!” they clamored. Soon after that we held our first meeting in my dining room. Three short weeks later, Utah Moms for Clean Air was 300 strong, and counting, we made our voices heard at the Air Quality Board hearing on the health effects of pollution, met with Governor Huntsman and held our first public meeting in which over one hundred moms and allies along with legislators and the media attended. Today, we have over 4,200 members.
I never would have guessed the power of motherhood in this fight. But just as I was motivated by love for my daughters, so are other mothers, and together that love transcends all else. Love is uncompromising. Love is fierce. Love is brave. We felt like mama grizzly bears whose cubs were being threatened and we all know how protective a mother grizzly bear can be!
Mothers indeed are in a special moral position to advocate for a clean air. Our intent is simple: to ensure that our children, whose lives are entrusted to us, have a healthy environment in which to grow and flourish.
Adriane Andersen wrote in Catalyst Magazine, “Utah Moms for Clean Air members pride themselves in their unique approach to engaging in political battle. Often with a baby on a hip and the occasional baked good in hand, these moms favor a disarming strategy that features good manners, sit-down conversations, and actively engaging those they’re trying to win over"...but when that does not work, we step-up our game, channel our inner-grizzly bear mama and get creative.
That first year, we were awarded by City Weekly as Utah’s Best New Grassroots Group.
More than a decade later Utah Moms for Clean Air is still a force to be reckoned with.
Under the leadership primarily of Cherise Udell and previously, Ingrid Griffee, Utah Moms for Clean Air has proven that moms mobilized together and motivated by love for their children are a force to be reckoned with.
Together, we have toppled plans for a local coal-fired power plant in Sevier County, forced a proposal for a highly polluting petroleum-coke energy plant just outside of Salt Lake City to be shelved, worked with Representative Christine Johnson to draft and pass House Bill 106 to retrofit the worst of the diesel-spewing school bus fleet in Utah, booted a dirty medical incinerator from Utah and wrote a plan for Governor Herbert entitled Path to Improving Air Quality in Utah, which encourage our Governor to create his Clean Air Action Team and UCAIR.
The list of our accomplishments is in fact long, so please see all of our victories.
In December of 2015, Utah Moms for Clean Air took our call for better air quality to the international stage. Utah Moms for Clean Air organized a delegation, complete with youth ambassadors, to attend the historic United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, France.
Since the number one cause of both global warming and Utah air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels we have continued our advocacy on climate change by thinking globally and acting locally. Following our participation in COP21, Utah Moms for Clean Air joined the U.S. Climate Action Network and now participates on the development of national climate strategy and policy. Thus, since 2015 and onward we have embraced a dual mission: cleaning up Utah’s dirty air and advocating for immediate action on climate change.