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Editorial: Utah pollution is a moral issue, too

Published February 26, 2014 1:01 am

Let's make pollution a moral issue
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When public health is threatened by a product that many Utah legislators see as evil, they agree to consider changing state law to keep that product out of the hands of young Utahns.

On the other hand, when the same legislators are confronted by another health hazard, this one produced by large corporations not considered purveyors of an immoral substance, they find it difficult, indeed, to put limits on the amount of that toxic substance being consumed by even the youngest and most vulnerable residents.

The Legislature is considering SB12, a bill to raise Utah's legal smoking age from 19 to 21 because they want to discourage young adults from using tobacco, a potentially deadly substance prohibited to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the predominantly LDS legislature is having a hard time finding a way to reduce the noxious emissions from vehicle tailpipes, refineries, mines, incinerators and the like, even though evidence continues to pile up showing the health effects on Utah's residents, including children and even the unborn. Simply breathing on the worst pollution days in Utah is much like smoking cigarettes, but involuntarily.

A Tribune analysis of student absences during the record-high pollution levels of last winter showed a correlation between the two. There is no doubt that the ailments of Utahns with breathing problems, heart disease and asthma are worsened by air pollution. There is some scientific data to suggest that pollution may even play a role in Utah's highest-in-the-nation rate of autism.

Still, the state continues to tie the hands of state regulators to set tougher standards for industrial polluters and of counties to require vehicle emissions testing. Legislators hesitate to raise the tax on fuel, and do little to make public transit more affordable, accessible and convenient during high-pollution days.

And, incredibly, a bill that would raise the speed limit to 80 mph on long stretches of Utah's highways has passed, despite clearly adding to the state's pollution levels.

The state resists efforts of the federal government to raise emission standards or put a tax on carbon emissions nationally.

If tobacco use were only a public-health issue and not a "moral issue," it seems unlikely a higher age limit on smoking would stand a chance.