The governor who couldn’t breathe

Gov. Gary Herbert missed a chance to give Utah’s air quality mess the crisis attention it deserves.

He said some of the right things in his State of the State speech Wednesday, but the time and emphasis spent on the gunk we breathe had an oh-by-the-way feel.

The governor rightfully crowed about the state’s economic recovery and development story. He also focused on education, as has every other Utah governor in living memory. Fair enough.

Utah recently endured another of those air inversions that trap pollutants in the Wasatch Front valleys. Nothing new. But with more pollution each time, we’re now racking up “worst air in the nation” achievements and drawing national attention to the damaging and even deadly health problem.

That’s why I was hoping Herbert would announce bold initiatives to attack the air quality slide. The nation’s worst air stank up the state throughout the tourism-heavy Sundance festival, for cough’s sake. That’s an economic development issue in itself if we’re not careful. What movie tourist really wants to spend a week or two in Utah breathing yellow stench that cuts months or years off the life span?

Late in his speech, the governor made a general call for all Utahns to do their part to help cut air pollution, things like carpooling, driving less, using mass transit and overall being more energy efficiency conscious. He also praised the Aggie Bus at Utah State University, an all-electric, emissions-free innovation on campus.

Absent, though, was any sort of direct challenge to industry to carry its weight in the air pollution situation. Rio Tinto Kennecott, for example, a major producer of air pollutants, may have warranted a mention, even if only a recognition that the company has taken some steps to cut emissions.

State government and business partnership websites have quite a bit of information about air quality and pollution problems, but not much sense of urgency.

It’s obvious the governor is aware of the situation and has taken some steps to address it. But it’s not enough, has a weak public profile and in the end doesn’t promise to put a serious dent in the sludge we must breathe.

A Utah doctors’ group has been making waves, and enemies among the industrialized and political establishment, with strident calls for major action to curb pollution. Here are some of the group’s recent recommendations, which seem to be falling on deaf ears:

“We advocate that all new electric energy supplies for the state of Utah should come from renewable resources.
“We want state-of-the-art controls on existing plants
“A reduction of the speed limit to 55mph when air pollution exceeds EPA limits
“Public subsidies for mass transit, free ridership and expanded service
“A 20% emissions reduction strategy by the Air Quality Board
“State funding for more extensive environmental monitoring;
“Strategies to increase public awareness about the negative health effects of air pollution
“Encouragement for school districts to use school buses that runs on alternative fuels
“Policies that prohibit school buses should from idling in school yards while waiting for students
“The establishment of air pollution warning indices that promote the safety of pregnant women and their unborn children.
“A goal of attaining 25% renewable energy sources by the year 2020
“Educate people about the sources of pollution and their health consequences
“Provide medical expertise to organizations working on urban planning, renewable power, increasing fuel efficiencies, and transportation alternatives.”

There’s also a petition drive urging Herbert to get going.

Are we going to continue to accept the grimy air, which demonstrably shortens lives, harms fetuses, increases health costs and cuts worker productivity? Or will the state government declare an end to its business-as-usual approach? A hot economy and better schools won’t be as valuable if the people in them can’t breathe.

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3 Responses to The governor who couldn’t breathe

  1. Bill Wade says:

    Charles, we all know why he hasn’ taken a stronger stance. It would mean he would have to use that dreaded word “tax increase”. The state prides itself on being a prudent manager of money but neglects to recognize that one of the reasons money is pleantiful is because the state refuses to look out for the well being of the people. It takes money to clean up the air effectively. California found that out 20 or 30 years ago and developed some of the strictest air quality controls in the country and in fact lead the EPA in developing the national standards which Utah now doesn’t meet. Ya I know everybody pokes fun at California for many reasons but in this area they are the main driving force that lead to improved gas mileage, cleaner oil refineries, improved public transit, and on and on. Utah needs to step up to the plate and be responsible to the public health needs.

    • Mark Shenefelt says:

      Charles has left the building.

      Thanks for your comments, Bill. The California experience is a good reference.

  2. kent coleman says:

    Mark,
    In a 16 page promotion of solar energy January 24, 2013, Media Matters For America ‘s Shauna Theel wrote :Myths and Facts About Solar Energy.

    What would be the harm done if they put 100 by 100 miles of solar panels in the utah desert and solved energy and polution for the whole USA as her research implies?

    What would be the harm in fighting global warming ?

    In 1949 Ewan MacCall wrote the song “Dirty Old Town” .
    The song was about Salford, Greater Manchester , England.

    In 1968 Roger Whittaker recorded a version of “Dirty Old Town”, we could change the title to say “Dirty Old State” and replace the state song of Utah We Love Thee,to Dirty Old State. (I like the studio version rather than the concert one ,as heard on youtube.

    If we could get natural gas(as the Rambler Charles suggests) without fracking and ruining our ground water that would be fine but after watching the documentry “GASLAND”,who could trust the natural gas companies.

    Thank you and especially Charles ( The Rambler) for your humor and not being intimidated and standing up and taking brave positions against what goes as “normal” on fox news and in this state.

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