The Geneva Steel mill has long been considered an economic boon to Utah County, but an economist says that claim is exaggerated and that pollution spewing from the plant's smoke stacks chases away jobs and development.
"In general, if a firm is emitting inefficient and inequitable levels of air pollution, it may be crowding out more economic activity and jobs than it creates," said C. Arden Pope III, a Brigham Young University associate professor of economics.He cited the difficulty the proposed Seven Peaks ski resort, which would emit little pollution, is having obtaining an air-pollution permit because of the county's poor air quality attributed to Geneva.
Speaking to the Wasatch Front Economic Forum on Wednesday, Pope gave a sobering account of the rise in respiratory diseases in Utah County since Geneva reopened in August 1987 after a 13-month shutdown.
"Two-thirds of approximately 400 patients from a local medical clinic indicated that their health was worse after the steel mill reopened," he said studies showed.
"Non-malignant respiratory death in Utah County is even greater than the U.S. average and higher than most counties in the United States with smoking rates two to five times" higher than Utah County's.
In addition to worsening health, the plant has also cost the county jobs, Pope said. He cited a recent survey of local firms that found air pollution and proximity to Geneva were the negative factors of doing business in Utah County. He also mentioned two unidentified firms whose parent companies didn't expand operations in Utah County because of poor air quality, resulting in the loss of 3,000 potential jobs.
"Results of this study suggest that the operation of (Geneva) may discourage more companies from locating or expanding in the area than it encourages," he said.
Pope's findings contradict those often mentioned by Geneva. Spokeswoman Mary Kay Lazarus said the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research reported Geneva's economic contribution was equal to more than 1 percent of total household income in the whole state.
Pope didn't specifically mention the U. study, but he said Geneva tends to overstate its impact on the local economy. "This is so common that the use of so-called multiplier effects have been used to get ridiculously large estimates of local economic impacts of a single firm."
The steel mill's closure had minimal economic impact, Pope added. He said the county's employment levels recovered within three to four quarters of the plant's closure because of new companies moving in and expansion of existing firms.
In addition to exaggerating its impact on the local economy, Pope said, Geneva fails to recognize what its pollution costs Utah County, and has attempted to buy public support through political campaign contributions and publicity campaigns.
But Lazarus told the Deseret News that Geneva is very aware of the negative impact the plant's pollution can have and is doing something about it.
She cited an $80 million modernization program designed to reduce emissions by 96 percent.
"We have several years before we are legally required to begin to do anything. But without any of those requirements, Geneva is unilaterally making an effort to reduce its" emissions, Lazarus said.
C. Arden Pope III, economics professor:
- Geneva pollution is making it difficult for the proposed Seven Peaks resort to obtain permits.
- Companies that would have employed 3,000 people are not coming to Utah County, because of poor air quality.
- Health problems of Utah Valley residents increased after the steel mill reopened.
Mary Kay Lazarus, Geneva spokeswoman:
- Geneva's economic contribution is equal to more than 1 percent of total household income in all of Utah.
- The company is beginning an $80 million modernization program designed to reduce emissions by 96 percent - several years before legally required to do so.