Utah County residents essentially agreed to disagree Thursday during a special public hearing before the Utah Air Conservation Committee about Geneva Steel and its effect on the county's air quality.
All who voiced their views expressed concern over poor air quality in the Utah Valley. But proposals on what should be done to remedy the problem ranged from immediate shutdown of the steel mill to suggestions that complainers move back to California.Most of the two dozen speakers among the crowd of 400 at Canyon View Junior High School fell into one of two general categories. Some, mostly Geneva steel workers and management personnel, appeared conciliatory and asked for a broad-based communitywide effort to find solutions to air pollution problems.
But others, who outwardly did not seem to fit the profile of militant environmentalists, demanded immediate government intervention in the form of standards more stringent than those set by the federal government, stricter monitoring of industries suspected of violating standards and harsher action against those that do.
A number of people spoke of the valley's improved air quality during 1987, when Geneva was shut down most of the year. They also told committee members of children and spouses who began suffering asthma and other respiratory problems almost as soon as the plant reopened last September.
Others talked of the negative impacts air pollution has on quality of life and on economic development efforts.
"We will lose jobs and see our tax base erode unless we clean up our air," said Jill Lesh, president of the Utah League of Women Voters.
Jenny Dalebout of the Coalition to Save Geneva said her group has been working for the past nine years to help the Geneva plant cut its emissions. The plant complies with federal and state standards now because of progress made in past years.
"Now we feel like the community is ready to get behind us on this," she said. "Geneva is not your adversary. We want to work together with you."
But Brigham Young University economics professor Arden Pope said his studies indicate the percentage of the local population that wants clean air is much larger than the percentage that wants Geneva to remain open.
"I haven't studied this, but it's my gut feeling that, if Geneva shut down, over surprisingly few years our economy would become stronger than if Geneva stays as it is now," he said.
It's better to have people working and earning a living than on the unemployment line, steelworkers countered.
"I can't raise a family on a minimum wage job," said steelworker Don Martinez. "Is everyone else in this valley willing to stop using fireplaces and wood stoves and start riding the bus around?"
Geneva Steel president Joseph Cannon told the committee the steel mill contributes to the county's air quality problem. But the plant currently complies with environmental regulations and is willing to work with community leaders to further address the problems, he said.
"We're raising our children here," Cannon said. "We have no intention of fouling our own nests. But this is a steel mill. It will always have some emissions no matter what we do."