2010 March 19: UT Salt Lake City: Economic Summit should deal with pollution
Water boarding, smothering someone with water, has become synonymous with torture thanks to Dick Cheney. I’d like to introduce a new term, "smog boarding"– smothering ourselves with air pollution — to describe what is happening to the Wasatch Front. I am writing this the day after a late winter storm has cleared the air. Twenty-four hours later the mountains have already disappeared behind the smog. Excruciatingly, this has become the new norm.
For several days this year the Wasatch Front had the worst air pollution in the country and this winter we violated the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards 44 times. We consistently rank in the top 10 worst cities in the country for acute spikes in air pollution and are routinely given the grade of "F" for ozone and particulate matter by the American Lung Association.
But our air pollution problems have only just begun.
Plans are being made to develop a new city of 300,000 in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City, to build a bridge across Utah Lake to bring new cities to the west side of Utah Lake and a huge new paper mill to its shores. In December, Kennecott, our largest single source of pollution, had been granted preliminary approval by the Division of Air Quality to increase its pollution 27 percent until it was withdrawn after protest by clean air groups.
Kennecott will continue to push for that permit increase. An expansion of the Legacy Highway has already been
proposed and new freeway capacity for hundreds of thousands more cars, more industry, more suburban sprawl and a seemingly limitless number of new residents.
Polls have shown that air pollution is what worries Utahns most about future growth. And yet all of these plans are proceeding without anyone addressing the inevitable air pollution consequences. No one thinks we should follow the Los Angeles blueprint for urban sprawl, and yet by default that is exactly what we are doing.
Utah Department of Transportation, DAQ, real estate developers, industry bigwigs, legislators and the governor’s office all believe in a sublime fantasy that we can continue to pour unlimited pollution into our air shed and somehow everything will be fine.
Look at the speakers and moderators for the Governor’s Economic Summit on March 29: No one will discuss the air pollution consequences of all that growth. Worse yet, state agencies and local governments are even fighting the EPA’s enforcement of national air quality standards, as if cleaner air were a punishment from the "feds."
Yes, our mountains are a pollution trap. To many people that means the health and economic repercussions somehow don’t apply to us. News flash to everyone turning a blind eye to "smog boarding" in Utah: Just like secondhand cigarette smoke, it’s torture to your heart, lungs and brain. It causes cancer. It kills as many as 2,000 Utahns every year. It’s torture to your kids’ current and future health, their intellectual capacity and even the integrity of the chromosomes they will pass on to future generations.
Not surprisingly, people don’t want to live where they can’t breathe. Diminished quality of life will become a serious economic liability. Pollution costs China about 10 percent of its gross domestic product. On some days our air pollution would make Beijing residents gag.
Here it curtails in-migration of new business and the ability of existing businesses to attract talent from out of state, and it diminishes real estate values.
As much as $1 billion of our state’s health care costs may be secondary to air pollution.
Considering the sacrifices our pioneer forefathers made, I can’t imagine this was their vision of Zion. If he were alive today, Brigham Young wouldn’t tolerate it. He would say, "Utah must do it differently — smarter, better and cleaner. The time has come for changes in lifestyles, priorities and planning."
Our future is being smothered. Our children and grandchildren won’t be able to live here with us, nor will they want to. We desperately need the kind of leadership that brought the pioneers here in the first place, for we are all becoming victims of "smog boarding."
Brian Moench is founder of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.