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(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Imam Muhammed S. Mehtar of the Islamic Society of Great Salt Lake in West Valley City leads a discussion following prayers on Monday, May 2, 2011.
Is Utah’s air pollution a moral issue? Faith leaders sound off

Religion » Utah faith leaders air their views on the state’s pollution problem.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 31 2014 07:42 am • Last Updated Feb 01 2014 03:44 pm

The state’s murky, polluted air — exacerbated by wintertime inversions — has affected the health and well-being of nearly all Utahns, and they’re worried.

In a recent survey commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune, Utahns favored stricter pollution standards on industry by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, and majorities across the board reported being more concerned about the state’s air quality than they were five years ago.

At a glance

Going green

More and more Utah churches are putting their faith — and funding — into “greener” chapels, temples and sanctuaries.

For example, the state’s predominant religion, the LDS Church, has trumpeted a new line of energy-efficient meetinghouses, complete with solar panels, xeriscaped landscaping and parking for electric cars. In November, the First Unitarian Church celebrated the installation of 124 solar panels at its east Salt Lake City building.

In fact, 2103 emerged as a “banner year for solar projects on houses of worship,” Susan Soleil, executive director of Utah Interfaith Power & Light, said this week in a news release touting Rocky Mountain Power’s latest round of renewable-energy funding.

“Since 2006, more than 100 community-based renewable-energy projects in Utah have been awarded funding made possible by support from our Blue Sky customers,” Alene Bentley, Rocky Mountain Power customer and community manager, said in the release. “This includes projects at 14 houses of worship.”

The latest Blue Sky awards will boost solar projects at the following sacred spaces:

Congregation Kol Ami, Salt Lake City

Holladay United Church of Christ, Holladay

St. James Episcopal Church, Midvale

St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Sandy

South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, Cottonwood Heights

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Taylorsville

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, West Valley City

Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church, Park City

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Park City

Temple Har Shalom, Park City

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Air quality is troubling for many, but is it a moral issue?

The Salt Lake Tribune asked a handful of Utah faith leaders if they were worried about it. Have they discussed it with their congregations? Do they have any spiritual or practical advice on the issue? And, as the Utah Legislature huddles on Capitol Hill, do these leaders back any particular legislation?

Here are their answers:

Bishop John C. Wester, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City

Air quality is a moral issue; it is a life issue. Studies show that unborn children in the womb are at grave risk from the effects of air pollutants. Children also face serious consequences from the effects of pollution on their growth and development. Our car emissions, industrial emissions and continued reliance on fossil fuels affect our current health, the health of our environment, the health of future generations and the health of nations far from us. As stewards of our environment, we are all responsible for the quality of our air and its negative effects. I encourage all Utahns, including legislators, to care for creation and do all in their power to protect human life.

Cody Craynor, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

While LDS Church leaders have not spoken specifically to issues of air quality in Utah, the church teaches that all humankind are stewards over the Earth and should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources and use the bounty of the Earth to care for the poor and the needy.

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Imam Muhammed Mehtar, Khadeeja Islamic Center, West Valley City

Islam teaches that we are the stewards of the Earth. As a result of that, we have further responsibilities, among them the type of lifestyle we lead. Because of poor choices, we can do a lot of harm to our environment. The Quran states that we must not waste. If we have an alternative to using our car for getting to work, by all means we should do that. By not doing that, we are harming the environment and ourselves.

This has been the Islamic stance; that does not mean Muslim countries are perfect.

People in authority — whether state or religious leaders — have to always assist the people in being mindful of making choices that will enhance their own lives and the lives of others. If people are not taking heed to the matter of pollution, then it is the duty of legislators to step up and start making their constituents not only aware but presenting appropriate penalties for the benefit of the majority. That is the duty of legislators — commanding the good and preventing harm. It is also the duty of legislators to deal with the largest offenders first, as if they are causing the bulk of the damage, then having little people undertake small measures would be unfair as well as ineffective. I say this because our legislators typically find it easier to regulate the little people before those of more stature, and then if we see results that are ineffective, it leads us to conclude that there was never a problem in the first place. This is wrong and unhelpful, and Islam teaches us that all measures should be just, equitable and beneficial to society.

Bishop Scott Hayashi, Episcopal Diocese of Utah

In Genesis, we are instructed to be the stewards of the Earth and all that God has given us. We fail in that task when we ignore common sense and common science to curb our pollutants, consider our global warming and examine our inability to give up such personal "freedoms" such as driving whatever car we want to wherever we want when we want.

I feel all people of faith must not only listen to God, but to scientists and advocates who offer counsel to protect his Earth. For many reasons of social justice, stewardship and sharing, I hope all people of faith will carefully follow the Legislature and become advocates mindful of our Lord’s desires. I am encouraged to see proposals such as House Bill 61, which allows for new grants and loans for retrofitting or using machines and vehicles that are more air quality friendly.

We are truly blessed to live in a place where we see mountains, lakes and trees. In the past, God’s gift wasn’t enough. We wanted new industry at any cost. We wanted to cover up fields with concrete. We wanted progress. I am reminded of Jeremiah 2:7, "I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. "

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