George Pyle: Another source of air pollution is the last thing Utah needs

Tuesday, people in lab coats at the University of Utah announced that children who have survived bouts with cancer are at increased risk for serious, emergency-room style breathing problems during the frequent periods of air pollution in the state. Even if their cancer hadn’t involved their lungs.

Also Tuesday, the American Lung Association told us that the Salt Lake City-Orem-Provo metropolitan area ranks No. 8 on a list of the cities with the worst short-term air pollution problem. Logan is No. 11.

So it should be no surprise -- some might even find it reassuring -- that, Wednesday, a group calling itself Civil Riot (a really bad name for a rock band) disrupted the meeting of Utah’s Inland Port Authority Board. The dissenters made clear their view that the very existence of the board, and the massive industrial and transportation hub it was created to build in the northwest quadrant of the city, is a threat to the lives and health of a populace already living in one of the dirtiest airsheds in North America.

The people in charge of the project argue that only a big-vision organization such as the port authority would be able to impose a master development plan over the 20,000-acre expanse. And that only with such a plan would there be any hope of bending the curve of the inevitable development of the area away from just that many more tailpipes and smokestacks and toward something that includes a lot of state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, green growth projects.


But, until we see the specific plans and guidelines with our own eyes, and breathe in the results with our own lungs, there is really no reason that anyone should believe a single word of that.

The most obvious and, so far, unrefuted case against the creation of the port authority is that no one has come up with a good reason why the Utah Legislature had to spring up, late in the 2018 session, with a plan that snatched away Salt Lake City’s previously unchallenged authority to zone, regulate, manage, tax and serve the area.

The theory that makes the most sense -- though, absent Wonder Woman’s truth-impelling lasso, it will never be more than a theory -- is that state lawmakers worried that, as long as the tree-hugging, gay-friendly, gender-equal, adjunct-faculty, Obama-voting, gol-durn Democrats who run the city had any say in the matter, the march of the bulldozers might be stayed for an unreasonable amount of time. Only by taking that power away from the city would growth for the sake of growth (i.e., the ideology of a cancer cell) hold sway.

Evidence for that explanation, of course, is easy to find. The biggest example being the other big land rush launched by the Legislature, moving the state prison from its long-time home at the border of Salt Lake and Utah counties to a swampy spot in the same area as the inland port, so that the old prison site could be turned into so many acres of commissionable sales.

Yes, there is every reason to believe that the population of Utah, particularly the Wasatch Front, will continue to boom in the next half century or so. Port or no port. Prison move or no prison move.

Utahns’ natural proclivity for large families and the attraction to outsiders of our growing high-tech and recreation based economy will see to it. Our high growth rate, virtually zero unemployment status and a skyline dotted with construction cranes show it.

But rather than work to manage that growth, to make it sustainable and livable and not the kind of thing that will come crashing down on us on the day when the air doesn’t clear and the water doesn’t flow, we are burdened with a state leadership that seems to want to pour gasoline on the fire and roast as many hot dogs as they can before the gravy train comes to a crashing halt.

By which time, our current leaders reasonably calculate, they will all be dead.

But their children and grandchildren -- the ones for whom we are supposedly creating all those new jobs and new opportunities and, after putting it off as long as possible, new schools and new affordable housing -- will still be here.

If, that is, they can still breathe.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, calculates he might live longer if he doesn’t burn his candle at either end. gpyle@sltrib.com