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.
But Geneva Steel's president countered that the company is not dragging its feet and is working as fast as it can to resolve the air quality problem in Utah County.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 simultaneously to 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.
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," he said.
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."
In his own press conference Monday, Geneva president Joe Cannon said, "I'm perplexed (about 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.
"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 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.
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.