Is Joe Cannon for real? He owns Geneva Steel. He also drives the first private vehicle in the state of Utah converted to run on natural gas.
He is a lawyer and a philanthropist. He is a former Environmental Protection Agency official and an accomplished musician. He is an industrialist and the father of the fine particulate matter standard.Joe Cannon, 41, is a surprising amalgam of interests that some might find contradictory.
Ever since he came to town to run Geneva Steel, people have been wondering just who Joe Cannon is.
Like Popeye, Joe Cannon is what he is: a finely tempered alloy of talents.
"What you see in Joe Cannon is exactly what you get," said friend and fellow industrialist Jon M. Huntsman. "He is a straight-shooting, no-nonsense, honest man. He hasn't changed one iota in the 30 years I've know him in that his word is his bond. He's never changed in that context."
Or is he? Cannon himself acknowledges that from some people's point of view he and his company are viewed more like Darth Vader. Sam Rushforth and Julie Mack, co-founders of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition, declined to comment for this story.
In the past, however, local environmentalists have questioned Cannon's intentions. A steel mill is a steel mill, and no matter what is done to the plant it will still pollute the valley's air, they say. They have a hard time reconciling that fact with Cannon's interest in doing what's good for Utah.
Cannon gained a reputation for being a straight-shooter during his years working at the EPA in Washington, D.C. His last position there was as assistant administrator for air and radiation during the Reagan years.
While at EPA, Cannon was responsible for the adoption of the PM10 legislation he now has to comply with as president of Geneva Steel. He played a role in the drive to get the lead out of gasoline, was responsible for the drafting of wood-burning stove regulations and fostered research in climate change and global warming.
Cannon was viewed by the environmental community at large as a person who was trustworthy because "people knew he was not going to buffalo them," said John Topping, president of the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C.
Topping also says "no one else alive had nearly the effect Joe did" on development of the EPA's stand on fluorohydrocar-bons and lead in gasoline.
"He tries to do the right thing," Topping said. "That is the thing that really stood out when he was there at EPA."
Susan Frank, a Washington lawyer who represents Geneva in trade issues, said Cannon, with his array of interests and his conciliatory personality, belies most people's perceptions of chief executive officers. She describes him the same way many do: as a listener.
"They (CEOs) are all supposed to be eating nails for breakfast and spitting them out at subordinates when they get to work in the morning," Frank said.
Cannon is fair, pleasant to deal with and not a "table-pounder," she said.
Still, the Washington Post noted in a 1985 story that on a number of issues Cannon, the EPA administrator, pleased neither industry nor environmental representatives.
Which is much like the mixed bag of reactions Cannon has garnered here in Utah - much to his own consternation.
It's not so much that Cannon wants to be loved. He just he doesn't want to be disliked, and he wants to be understood.
"I am frustrated," Cannon said. "I am a lot more like the people at the university (Brigham Young University, where much of the criticism of Cannon has originated) than they could ever know.
"The simple fact is there is no company in the country and maybe the world that is doing more than we are (environmentally)," Cannon said. "There is no company saying `We're going to spend tens of millions of dollars before they make us do it.' If their real concern is the environment, they should rejoice that they have Geneva in their midst."
Cannon has vowed to spend $80 million installing four facilities that will significantly reduce the amount of particulate emission from the plant. The first facility, a biological wastewater treatment plant, is finished and will begin operating in coming months.
"I know what I'm doing is a right and good thing," he said. When he says that there is a tinge of bewilderment in his voice that not everyone thinks so, too.
It's not surprising that Cannon cares about and likes to know what people think - not only about him and his company, but about a variety of topics.
During the early '70s he worked for pollster Richard Wirthlin and for the BYU Survey Research Center. He has written dozens of survey questions and regularly hires Dan Jones to conduct opinion surveys on various topics.
Cannon used to think that if only people knew him, they'd feel good about what he's doing. He's given up on that.
But he is not giving up on doing things he thinks make Utah a better place to live, including giving support to a number of organizations and causes.
"I'm not going to let a few whiners prevent us from benefiting lots of people," Cannon said.
Although Geneva has taken to making many donations anonymously.
Much of Geneva's philanthropic donations can be traced to Cannon's own interests: education and arts and music. More than one-third of Geneva's contributions go to educational activities.
The company donates to the Utah Symphony, the Utah Opera and other artistic causes - reflecting Cannon's great love for music. He originally came to BYU on a music scholarship; he plays the French horn.
Cannon's private life is as straightforward as his public life. He and his wife, Jan, and their six children live in a big, open home in the Riverbottoms. While the location is ritzy, the Cannon home is not: They point out it is filled with the same furniture they had in Washington.
An exception: the walls are filled with the works of the Utah artists the Cannons love - Lee Green Richards, Lee Bennion, Gary Smith and Dennis Smith.
In the laundry room, everyone - Cannon included - has a labeled drawer where just washed clothes wait to be put away.
Is Joe Cannon for real? Yes. He is a real 20th century renaissance man.