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Public health crisis

Published January 24, 2013 5:30 pm

It is time for strong action
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Gov. Gary Herbert proudly announced his "State of Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision" on Wednesday, he stood in front of a large photograph of the Salt Lake City skyline, where man's work is overshadowed by the beautiful Wasatch Mountains.

He had to use a picture because the real mountains were not visible that day, or the next day, or the day before, obscured as they were by another day of the eye-smarting, lung-scarring smog that has enveloped the valley for such a large part of this winter. Which threatens to hang over our lives, and our children's health, for years to come without some real leadership provided by that same governor.

Herbert's heartfelt calls for economic development, his top priority as governor, are destined to fail, to be the seeds of their own destruction, unless the state takes real, executive, legislative and regulatory action to clean up our air.

The governor's futile, if sincere, faith in a wave of voluntary action to face this problem is a complete non-starter. No commuter, no family, no business, no manufacturing, processing or refining facility will see that it is their private interest to give up comfort, convenience, product or profit unless they can see that their neighbors, and their competitors, are doing the same — by force of law, if necessary.

The same day, Herbert also received a missive from the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a letter signed by more than 100 doctors who see daily the damage wrought by the vile air that hangs over our city. Asthma. Heart disease. Emphysema. Miscarriages. Premature death.

These health professionals, tired as they are of cleaning up — or burying — the results of what they reasonably term a public health crisis, are demanding that those in power do something about the cause. They call for mandatory orders to shut down certain pollution sources on days when the natural temperature inversions trap poisons in the valley. To make UTA rides free. To reduce highway speeds to 55 mph. To ban wood and waste burning. To encourage telecommuting or other measures that reduce driving.

The doctors and other experts are exercising what influence they have. Others concerned about the well-being of our community, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faith-based organizations, should do the same.

Even if climate change does not bring more inversions, and fewer air-cleansing storms, our air will only get worse without real action. Dreams of economic development, recreation or industry will fail to thrive. And so will we.