The Utah County Clean Air Coalition's decision to use a billboard to broadcast its sentiments about air quality in Utah Valley is curious.
Billboards, after all, are considered a form of "visual" pollution by a good number of environmentalists. Billboards clutter the landscape. They are distracting and obstruct the surrounding vista.Clifford D. May, an editorial writer for Scripps Howard had this to say recently about billboards: "A billboard is a form of litter that you can't pick up and throw away. A billboard is to the eyes what a boom box, blasting at full volume, is to the ears: an intrusion upon the privacy of strangers."
The same objection can be made about the Clean Air Coalition's billboard that its members make about Geneva's emissions: We have no choice about exposure. Analogies are never perfect, and the consequences of the two types of "pollution" are different. Still, we have no choice about exposure to either pollutants.
I think the coalition is right in wanting to ensure that concern about air pollution is not solely a winter-time phenomenon. But I think their choice of media is misplaced.
A better medium for a clean-air message: a placard on a bus. The medium thus would become part of the message in that supporting clean air would be visually tied to riding the bus.
I also think the coalition's negative approach to keeping attention focused on air quality is wrong. We've reached a juncture here on the air pollution problem.
In October Geneva Steel - the primary source of fine particulate pollution and obvious target of the coalition - will start up its new basic oxygen furnaces, which company officials say will reduce particulate emissions substantially. They will either work or not work.
Utah County also has the first comprehensive plan for controlling fine particulate matter now wending its way through the federal approval process. To its credit, the coalition was instrumental in drafting the county's particulate plan. The plan will either work or not work.
In the meantime, the coalition's time and money would be better spent working in cooperation with industry and government drafting additional solutions for reducing pollutant levels in Utah County.
For example, the coalition wants Geneva to cease or reduce its coking operation. Why not form a joint committee with state and mill representatives to research how that can be done? There is still much to be done to reduce air emissions in Utah Valley. And as in the past, the most progress will come about when people work together toward solutions.