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An Olympic climate

Published December 8, 2012 1:01 am

To attract games, clear the air
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If Utah is going to host the Olympic Winter Games of 2026 — or ever — it would be nice if we had some snow. And it would be nice if we could see the snow, rather than have to imagine it behind or above a thick layer of polluted air.

The enthusiastic report of the ad hoc Olympic Exploratory Committee, released last week, paints a bright picture of what another Salt Lake City-based Winter Games could look like. There is the backing of state and local government, a high level of public support, a fleet of existing venues, businesses and volunteer networks that can be ramped up in plenty of time, and a good and growing transportation system. Those are all things that make another Olympic bid look good to the United States and International Olympic committees, because they bode well for the human part of the quadrennial festival of winter sports.

But the larger, environmental factors cannot be turned on, or off, so easily. The 2012 Utah ski season, for example, is off to a very slow start, hampered by the fact that there is little or no snow at many of the area's ski resorts. It's still early, and it is a status that might change rapidly. Or might not.

It is always important to note that no single weather event, or lack thereof, can be firmly tied to global climate change. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that the rise in global temperatures is associated with many unusual and unhappy events, from drought in the Plains to superstorms in New York City.

Without some real attention to the problem, those damaging weather events will only grow more frequent. And the likelihood of Utah and other Western ski areas going increasingly dry grows with it.

Just as important to any Utah Olympic dream, and more within our power to actually fix, is the state's lousy air quality. The Utah Air Quality Board and its staff have admitted that they are running behind on what they had hoped would be a comprehensive plan on how to bring down a particular type of air pollution — the particulate matter called PM 2.5. The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants the plans by the middle of next year if Utah is to avoid sanctions that could include a loss of federal highway money and curbs on the construction of new buildings.

Utah's leaders, from Gov. Gary Herbert on down, need to get serious about air quality, and more willing to put state and federal teeth behind whatever plans they come up with.

Utahns who say they favor another Olympic Winter Games, but aren't willing to do all they can to improve our climate and air quality, are not being serious, or realistic.