Despite what a county commissioner believes, Geneva Steel's president says the company is not dragging its feet and is working as fast as it can to resolve the air quality problem in Utah County.
In a Geneva Steel press conference Monday, Joe Cannon said, `I'm perplexed (about Commissioner Brent Morris' comments). I don't know how we can move faster in dealing with the state. The fact of the matter is we don't know what it takes to clean it up yet."Cannon's comments came in response to an earlier press conference held by Morris in the Utah County Commission chambers (see related story).
"The more strict PM10 standards, which Commissioner Morris and others keep complaining that we are not meeting, cannot be met at this time because they have not yet been formulated," Cannon said in a prepared statement. "The first step is for the state to formulate a plan for meeting the standards, and even that preliminary step has not yet been completed."
The PM10 standard is violated when more than 150 particles smaller than a micron are counted in a cubic meter of air during one day. A micron is a millionth of a meter. The fine particulates are more of a health concern because they reach the lungs.
The PM10 standard became effective in July 1987 and was to be implemented within nine months, but only recently has the state Bureau of Air Quality devised an implementation plan.
"Geneva Steel has consistently stated, and we restate today, that we are committed to meet that new standard once it is formulated. But, we cannot meet a standard that has not yet been stated," Cannon said.
At the same time, he said, the company has not been sitting by waiting for the state to complete its obligations. "We have undertaken our own independent studies of the issue, sharing our findings with the state."
He said Geneva has hired a national expert in particulates to study the issue, the same man the state wanted to hire but could not afford.
"Sometimes it seems that others have the impression we are not doing all we can do," Cannon said. "We are trying to do as much as we can in working with the state implementation plan. We are willing to spend whatever it takes to come into compliance of the standards we are dealing with."
Part of the problem is that people see clouds of steam going up from the steel mill because of its visibility in the valley. "It's a great target to go after, but it's a sad thing to live with," Cannon said.
Geneva Steel spends more than $40 million a year on pollution control and is in the process of installing a $6 million biological treatment facility to reduce emissions, Cannon said.> "We cannot spend more than that until the new standards are formulated," he added. "We will do what it takes to meet those standards, but we feel bushwhacked at times."> Morris said Geneva Steel should have spent more money for pollution control instead of giving employees a large bonus at the end of the year, but Cannon said the company was meeting a contractual agreement with employees by sharing the first year's profits.
Morris also suggested that Geneva spend less on community contributions and more on pollution devices, but Cannon said the total amount of charitable contributions would not amount to much when considering the millions of dollars needed for pollution control.
"We are planning on spending millions in complying," he said. "We have never denied that we are a major contributor of the PM10, but we are talking about a large facility. That's why it takes time. We are not dragging our feet."
Morris' tactics also drew fire from a fellow county commissioner, Malcolm Beck, who said he feels Monday's press conference was inappropriate.
"I disagree with a press conference to blast everybody," he said. "It doesn't mean a damn to me."
Beck said commissioners have not discussed the issue and that the conference should not have been held in the commission chambers. "It's not a commission issue." The state Bureau of Air Quality and the federal EPA, he said, are the agencies responsible for addressing and enforcing air-pollution violations.
Although a recent State Health Department study says Geneva Steel is responsible for 66 percent of the valley's fine particulate pollution, Beck said it's still unclear how harmful that pollution is.> "I worked out there for 30 years and I never went to the doctor," he said. "I lived here before Geneva was built, and I saw the same thing (air pollution) I'm seeing today."