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Air quality, the EPA, and Northern Utah

Published December 22, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Our poor air quality is well-known. The Utah Air Quality Board and the State's Air Quality Division are working on plans to meet current and future EPA requirements. The EPA is forcing us to do what our governor and Legislature should have done long ago — develop plans and policies to improve our collective health — rather than fostering plans and programs which will make the air worse and worse. The EPA is on our side.

The governor, Salt Lake County mayor and other officials are saying we must plan for growth, for a near doubling of Salt Lake County population in just 20-25 years. The message takes many forms: jobs depend on growth; economic viability depends on growth; we must have "smart" growth, "sustainable" growth, clean growth. We will plan for "a better way to grow."

Wasatch Front air quality has already deteriorated and is a major health concern for those with asthma and other respiratory issues. A doubling of the population, a massive increase in Kennecott's operations and an expansion of the oil refineries will guarantee worse and even terrible air quality in the very near future.

We cannot plan our way out of such an inevitable consequence of growth. We already have trouble meeting EPA's minimal air quality standards. We will asphyxiate on our own growth. Growth is the problem.

"Your problem is our solution," says an economic development professional in rural Utah. She wants some growth in her rural region. Why can't our increased population be in Delta, Grantsville, Beaver, Scipio, Green River, Price or Cedar City? Why can't the communities along the I-15, I-70, and I-80 corridors be empowered to grow? Why does it all have to be in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties, and now in Draper? There are many wonderful small cities and towns throughout the state – and most of them would welcome some job and economic growth.

Yes, there are infrastructure needs and issues; yes, there are manpower and education/training needs and issues; yes, there are financial and related needs and issues. But the main need and issue is leadership — there is an almost total lack of vision among our major elected officials — our so-called leaders. The governor's 10 year energy plan, for example, will likely result in the wearing of gas masks by Northern Utah residents!

We must start to disincentivize growth along the northern Wasatch Front. One way is to apply increasing fees for energy use (carbon fees), for water, and for air — and increases in property taxes to disincentivize growth and development. Land developers will need to develop elsewhere. Industry expansion will need to be directed elsewhere. New homes will need to be built elsewhere.

Rural Utah legislators, this is your opportunity. Our problem is your solution.

The Wasatch Front is finite; its air is already marginal. Continued growth will only make it worse — and worse.

Joe Andrade is an unaffiliated citizen of Salt Lake City concerned about the future of Utah.