A group of concerned Utah County residents say they'd rather have clean air than a revived steel mill, and they want Gov. Norm Bangerter to do something about it.
The group - a consortium of citizens, educators and business leaders - met with Bangerter Monday to express their frustation at what they view as a tacit agreement by government regulators to allow Orem's Geneva Steel to violate air quality standards to keep the struggling steel mill in business."It's clear they (Geneva) are not making the slightest effort to improve air quality," said Richard Lesh, education director for WICAT systems, who organized the meeting with Bangerter.
Bangerter was defensive and seemed somewhat surprised at the group's criticism of the effort to save Geneva, which recently reopened after verging on permanent closure last year.
The governor said, however, that Geneva is not above the law and that a February citation for air qualify violations would not be swept under the rug.
"Are we willing to do what's necessary" to bring Geneva into compliance? the governor asked. "Yes, I am. I want them to comply."
Group members, however, were not easily assuaged. They continued to press their points for more than an hour - nearly twice as long as they were alotted.
One of their most surprising assertions was that saving Geneva Steel may not have been as popular with Utah County residents as state officials believed.
"We weren't devastated down there (when Geneva closed) the way everyone thinks," said Kimberly Warner, representing a group called Utah Valley Citizens for Clean Air.
Arden Pope, economics professor at Brigham Young University, said he had conducted a poll two years ago that showed the majority of county residents are very concerned about clean air.
"Two-thirds of the people would have voted against it (reopening Geneva)," he said. "But the feeling was that we don't want to kick an industry while it's down."
Group members claimed many businesses decide against relocating in Utah County because of the bad air. Jill Lesh, president of the Utah League of Women Voters, said the Rand McNally "Places Rated Almanac" ranked Utah County 326 out of 329 in terms of "health factor," which she said was primarily because of high carbon monoxide levels.
Richard Lesh said WICAT has trouble attracting qualified people and trouble keeping them once they come to Utah.
"We've not had a single research and development program director stay for more than a year," he said.
Pope said the group is not advocating closing Geneva. "We want economic activity," he said. "But we think we can improve economic activity along with environmental aspects."
They claimed Denver had taken great strides toward addressing its pollution problems by stricter standards for wood-burning stoves, programs that encourage mass transit and requiring cleaner-burning oxygenated gasoline during peak inversion periods.
Bangerter said he shared many of their concerns, although he questioned whether Colorado ought to be a model for Utah. He said that state's economic indicators such as job creation and retention have been lower than in Utah, which continues to lead the region.
The governor said his feeling now is that Geneva shouldn't be given an extension for meeting air quality standards, but he said he would have to make that decision when the time comes.
The state Air Conservation Committee has set a June 16 hearing date for Geneva to appeal the notice of violation.