Utah's environmental feats and failures highlighted in report
Utah tallied its share of environmental successes last year, and shortfalls, too.
The 2012 Utah Environmental Report highlights key projects, division by division from failing to complete plans to cut winter air pollution in northern Utah to taking steps to clean up toxic water contamination in an east-side neighborhood, and from recycling millions of tires to clearing the way for the nation's first oil sands project.
According to Department of Environmental Quality Director Amanda Smith, the annual report provides data showing the agency is carrying out its goals.
"Our mission remains resolute," Smith says in an opening message. "We will safeguard human health and quality of life while protecting and enhancing Utah's environment."
Perhaps the most extraordinary feat mentioned in this year's report, one with worldwide impact, only got a paragraph: The end of the Deseret Chemical Depot's work destroying 45 percent of the nation's chemical weapons stockpile and the beginning of the site's closure.
"It's a step forward for peace," said Steve Erickson, a longtime watchdog of the weapons program. "To be rid of that legacy of evil weaponry is almost evolutionary in its importance."
Meanwhile, the report notes the state was not able to make the strides it had hoped for on PM 2.5 pollution that sometimes plagues northern Utah valleys in the winter. The Division of Air Quality spent three years on plans to help affected counties comply with federal air-quality standards and enlisted the help of more than 100 stakeholders to do it. But the agency missed a Dec. 14 deadline to complete the entire package.
Smith noted that the problem is complex, since around 10,000 individual sources contribute to the winter pollution problem, and she noted that the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) aims to involve business, government and the public in solving it.
However, all but a few parts of the 23-regulation plan were passed on time in December, but the state will have to work with federal regulators through the first part of next year to deal with concerns industry and the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency raised about how the state intends to bring down emissions.
"This plan, which includes a host of new rules, will mean we will begin to see better air quality as early as 2013," she said. "It also means we all have a responsibility to do our part to improve the air our children breathe."
In contrast, Cherise Udell, a founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, described the state's air-pollution efforts as "halfhearted." She dubbed UCAIR as being "pretty impotent" and having little traction with the public.
"They [state leaders] really are not as serious as they could be," said Udell, saying the state needs a stronger regulatory component to its programs and more participation from industry.
The report ends with a brief description of the DEQ's Business Assistance Program, which includes UCAIR and Clean Utah, a voluntary pollution-reduction and environmental conservation effort.
Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, applauded the agency's outreach.
"Many businesses recognize the benefits to the community and to their overall profitability of being environmentally responsible," he said in an email. "The state's willingness to engage businesses on a voluntary basis as opposed to a heavy-handed mandate is the right approach as is evident by the strong response we've seen."
Two key events happened too late in the year to be included in the final report.
One was the revelation that the state finally succeeded after nearly two decades and more than $2 million to kill plans for high-level nuclear waste storage on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation. On Thursday, the utility-company consortium behind the proposal asked federal regulators to spike its six-year-old license, ending the bipartisan effort that brought together Utahns of all political persuasions to fight the proposed storage site.
The second was an announcement on Friday that the state has finalized the paperwork on the Red Butte Creek oil spills of 2010, an ordeal triggered when a Chevron pipeline near the University of Utah spewed 54,600 gallons of crude oil, much of it running through Salt Lake City backyards and into the Liberty Park pond downtown.
DEQ's 2012 Environmental Report Card
Around 4.4 million tons of non-hazardous solid waste went to landfills in 2010, the latest year for data on those volumes.
Roughly 30 percent of Utah waters are still "partially impaired" under the Clean Water Act's definition.
The nation's first oil sands project, U.S. Oil Sands' PR Spring, received final approval from the Water Quality Board after an environmental group appealed the state-issued permit.
Two new spots, including part of popular Lake Powell, were added to the 19 areas where mercury warnings have been issued for people who consume certain kinds of fish.
Participants in the Clean Utah program for businesses reduced hazardous chemicals used in manufacturing by more than 358 tons.
Source • Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 2012