Mayor Ralph Becker is all about air quality. It was the sole topic of his most recent State of the City Address. It is behind his emphasis on bicycle lanes and mass transit.
So it is consistent with the Salt Lake City mayor’s general policy statements that he would put a budget cut where his mouth is and move to cancel funding for a pair of this summer’s big fireworks shows.
Becker’s proposed budget, to be the subject of a City Council hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, would remove the $25,000 allocation for the July 4 fireworks at Jordan Park and July 24 display at Liberty Park.
It certainly makes sense for a city that suffers the way this one does from poor air quality to look not only at expensive, long-term ways to cut down on pollution, but also to examine its own behavior and at least stop doing things that make our air worse.
Even if it is only symbolic. Like fireworks are.
Unfortunately, the symbolism many people may take from the cancellation of two big city fireworks shows on their traditional dates is likely not to be the kind Becker intends.
Such a move stands a very large risk of playing into the hands of those who love to warn us that anything we do to take on air pollution, or climate change, will come with a price we cannot afford — or, at least, do not wish to bear.
Those who wish to preserve the status quo in many areas, especially the continuation of our fossil fuel-driven economy, are wont to warn the public that cleaner air or reduced greenhouse gas emissions will somehow drive up costs, eliminate jobs or otherwise disrupt life as we know it. A lot of that is pure poppycock, but it can be very effective.
Fireworks do add particulates and other forms of pollution to our air. But in the summer, when ozone is a greater problem, those pollutants aren’t nearly as important as they would be during winter inversions.
Also, the loss of these major displays won’t make that much difference. For one thing, privately funded shows at Smith’s Ballpark and Sugar House Park wouldn’t be affected. For another, it would likely encourage more people to buy their own fireworks, legal and otherwise, and set them off in neighborhoods where they wake the neighbors, frighten the dogs and create a fire hazard.
Some things the city might do for future Independence and Pioneer days would be to move to shows with fewer incendiaries and more lasers, and to find ways to ease the automobile gridlock that surrounds the events.
For this year, though, the shows should go on.
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