Utah Valley residents can no longer afford to compromise their health by backing down to the "schoolyard bully" responsible for most of the valley's air pollution, County Commission Chairman Brent Morris said Monday.
Morris, speaking during a press conference in packed commission chambers, said it's time local leaders end what he called "political dodging" and join grass-roots efforts to make Geneva Steel clean up its act. In prepared remarks, he outlined nine recommendations he said would lead to cleaner air."The free enterprise system doesn't give anyone or any company the right to impose conditions that are detrimental to our health," Morris said. "This community will no longer accept the `Don't worry, be happy' approach to this problem."
Morris, who earlier this month said he would make county air a commission priority this year, pledged to improve air quality and to simultaneously keep Geneva open.
Nevertheless, he said, "We're not a one-industry family in the valley anymore. We can't continue to compromise our environment for capital gains, and it would be inexcusable to jeopardize our future economic stability because of dirty air."
Morris said he hopes Monday's press conference, attended by representatives from several clean-air groups, sparks increased expressions of public dissatisfaction with dirty air.
"We need to invite our Utah congressional leaders who exerted their energies, devotion and political influence to reopen Geneva to please come back and apply the same amount of energy to help us clean up the polluted air."
Help also is needed from Gov. Norm Bangerter and the state Legislature, he said. Morris called for increased legislative funding for the Bureau of Air Quality, whose staff and monitoring equipment are inadequate.
He predicted that improved air-quality monitoring and studies of the health effects of particulate pollution would better reveal health hazards and lead to improved air quality. "I don't believe we know all the health problems we're developing because of polluted air."
A state Health Department study released earlier this month says Geneva is responsible for 66 percent of the valley's fine particulate pollution.
"The governor and state legislators should immediately rescind the sales tax exemptions for Geneva Steel. That industry needs to pay its share of sales tax as do other businesses, big or small. That sales tax can help the state offset the needed increased funding for the Bureau of Air Quality."
Morris said he was unsuccessful last week in getting Geneva officials and a citizens group to sit down and discuss clean air because the groups no longer trust each other. However, he said lack of cooperation between the groups would notdeter him.
Rather than making donations to community projects and paying employees high bonuses, Morris suggested Geneva purchase additional pollution-control equipment and invest in modernization.
"The greatest donation this community could receive would be good health through clean air," he said. "Geneva Steel has a real challenge ahead of them."
To have both clean air and steel production in Utah County, "Geneva needs to expend great amounts of money and effort immediately. Our health can't wait for a five, 10 or 15 year phase-in period for modernization."
Morris said it's time Geneva officials changed their attitude and showed willingness to sacrifice by investing in the plant's future and the valley's air quality.
"Personally, I don't think I've seen that yet," he said. "I'm not so sure USX made such a bad decision. They left us a dinosaur."
If Geneva refuses to modernize and then closes after a few years of making high profits, taxpayers could ultimately be stuck with the bulk of cleanup costs, he warned.
Meanwhile, he said, the Environmental Protection Agency needs to be less lenient and cease negotiating fine payments.
Morris said he will request that the Utah County Council of Governments and Mountainlands Association of Governments form a task force to study other sources of air pollution and recommend a countywide plan to reduce or control such contributors.
In addition, he said he will recommend the commission increase the City and County Health Department's budget by at least $200,000 so the department can work jointly with the Bureau of Air Quality.