Malin Moench: Utah Legislature going backward on climate and air quality

Bills would only add to Utah’s already overwhelming air pollution.

(Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) This June 3, 2011, photo shows the Huntington coal-fired Power Plant owned by PacifiCorp in Huntington, Utah.

Life-shortening pollution and thousand-year mega droughts — these are the twin “blessings” that relying on fossil fuels has bestowed on Utah residents. The Wasatch Front chronically violates federal air quality standards for the “Big Three” pollutants (ozone, sulfur dioxide, and fine soot). This is our reward for continuing to choose fossil fuels over renewables to produce most of our electricity and run most of our vehicles. The resulting pollution shortens our lives by an average of two years, according to Brigham Young University scientists.

As carbon builds up in our atmosphere it makes our desert climate relentlessly hotter and dryer. BYU scientists tell us that this (and water supply mismanagement), will cause the Great Salt Lake to die and Lake Powell to reach “dead pool” within five years. The lake’s looming death, the toxic dust storms that will ensue and the utter failure of our state’s political leaders to respond to this crisis, is a story that has made national headlines.

As if damaging our lungs and our climate were not enough, continuing to choose fossil fuels over renewable is hurting our wallets. Thanks to the plunging costs of renewables and recent Inflation Reduction Act tax credits, it will cost Rocky Mountain Power more to keep operating its obsolete coal-fired power plants than it would cost to build and operate solar farms of equal capacity, including full battery backup.

Thanks to the plunging costs of batteries and recent Inflation Reduction Act tax credits, it will now cost a consumer more to buy, drive, and maintain a polluting gas powered car over its full service life than a battery electric car of the same class.

Now that the damage that fossil fuels have inflicted on our health, our climate and our wallets has reached emergency proportions, you would think that Utah legislators would try to meet the emergency head on. What are they doing instead?

They are forcing taxpayers to pick up Rocky Mountain Power’s legal bills as it fights for its right to pollute (an appropriations request from Rep. Carl Albrecht). Condemning any clean air regulations that would burden Utah’s coal-fired power plants (HCR9, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz and Sen. Evan Vickers). Pulling the plug on state incentives to build renewable power plants (HB407, sponsored by Rep. Kay Kristofferson). Shifting fuel taxes from dirty gas cars to clean electric vehicles (HB301, sponsored by Schultz).

The Legislature sits on a $2 billion surplus. It could easily take a third of that surplus and purchase enough agricultural water rights to save the Great Salt Lake for decades to come. What has it done? So far, it has earmarked one one-hundredth of the surplus ($15 million) to take that essential step.

If you ever have to call 911 to report that your house is on fire, be glad our legislators wouldn’t be driving the fire truck. If they were, likely as not, they would jump in the truck, race to your house, and spray gasoline on the smoldering blaze.

Malin Moench

Malin Moench, Holladay, has analyzed legal and economic issues relating to pubic utilities at the federal level for 37 years. Now retired, he volunteers for non-profit organizations that protect public health and the environment.