Brian Moench: Utah needs better angels to save nature

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Capitol Hill, April 10, 2020.

James Madison wrote in 1788, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But the only angel near Utah’s Capitol Hill is standing atop the Salt Lake Temple.

It only takes a few anti-angels maneuvering to the top of the government food chain, pursuing their own greed, ambition and ideology, to eat away the public interest, devour nature and undermine our future.

The United Nations warns that global “boiling” has replaced the era of global warming. June 2023 was the hottest worldwide June since global temperatures were documented in 1850. July 2023 will have been the hottest month in history and the August forecast is for more of the same. Arizona was so hot in July that the hospital at Valleywise Health in Maricopa County was full, and many patients were there because they were burned just falling down outside.

“For people who have been on the pavement for 10 to 20 minutes, the skin is completely destroyed,” said the director of the burn unit.

But setting the planet on fire is still profitable for some, so Utah leaders will keep pouring gasoline on it, literally, with the Uinta Basin Railway and endless machinations to export more Utah coal.

Utah’s political oligarchy is determined to maintain our triple A rating, as long as AAA stands for Asphalt, Alfalfa and Air Pollution. Even though expanding freeways has been shown time and again not to reduce traffic congestion long term, reality will not interfere with UDOT laying asphalt. Come hell or high water, UDOT will expand I-15. While everyone knows the road to hell is paved with good intentions, UDOT is helping pave the road to the climate crisis with endless asphalt and cement.

A harsh international spotlight now shines on Utah’s smoldering air pollution disaster over Great Salt Lake, and the rest of the world thinks we might consider doing something about it. Apparently they haven’t met our legislature. Despite repeated warnings that this year’s anomalous snowpack did little to save the lake, this past session the legislature couldn’t even commit to setting a goal for the lake level.

The inland port was a business plan that made no economic sense, nonetheless developers were relieved of typical financial risks by creation of the Utah Inland Port Authority, juiced with a fountain of taxpayer money. UIPA is going to spread the economic nonsense and pollution up and down the Wasatch Front, including raising a middle finger to everyone worried about the GSL ecosystem by setting up a port next to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and conveniently next to Utah’s largest alfalfa grower, Bailey Farms International, making it even easier to ship more water intensive alfalfa to China.

In 2021, Utah’s politicians helped industrial polluters hijack the expertise and personnel of the Division of Air Quality in a scheme to prevent EPA from enforcing ozone standards by blaming our ozone on China. Now they are suing to stop EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule which would prevent Utah’s coal power plants from polluting Colorado.

Utah prides itself in championing “family values,” but apparently family values don’t include saving lives from air pollution in Colorado or Utah.

Powerful legislators have lined up to force feed us a new gravel pit in the heart of Parley’s Canyon, destroying critical watersheds and the canyon’s aesthetics and blanketing thousands of Salt Lake residents with more dust pollution. A petition against it has been signed by over 27,000 people, more than any petition since Moses invented petitions. Still, three state agencies have approved it, and Gov. Cox has rebuffed requests to meet with its opponents.

The Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola triggered 50,000 public comments, more than any project in UDOT history. The overwhelming majority were in opposition. But in Utah, where democracy is on life support from severe gerrymanderitis, UDOT has not committed a single molecule of concern over what the public wants. It’s all about what a handful of powerful, legislature-connected “non-angels” want.

In the last 50 years, protecting nature has gone from a boutique issue to the heart of the greatest threat humankind has ever faced. President Lincoln once asked us to return to the “better angels of our nature.” Utahns will need to return better angels to Capitol Hill if we are to save nature.

(Brian Moench)

Dr. Brian Moench has had a 42 year career in clinical medicine, and has been working for a cleaner environment for Utahns for the last 20 years.