Geneva Steel and Utah County's air pollution problem were addressed by gubernatorial candidates at the annual Utah Public Health Association Conference Thursday.
Democratic candidate Ted Wilson and independent candidate Merrill Cook attended the conference, while Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter sent Lt. Gov. Val Oveson in his stead. Each gave a prepared 15-minute talk and answered moderator questions.The three agreed on many issues, including the need for balancing environmental controls and a healthy business climate. Cook particularly stressed the "mistake of not setting public health standards before the Geneva Steel plant in Utah County was reopened." He called the quality of air in Utah County the "No. 1 health problem in Utah today" and called for a change in state law to allow local governments to enact more stringent environmental controls if they desire.
"We don't want to shut down Geneva Steel," he said. "We just don't want Geneva Steel to shut down Utah County. Other companies won't locate there if this pollution isn't cleared up."
Wilson told the 200 health workers that "having the courage to follow through with regulations when environmental contamination is a problem is important." He added that a pollution-free Utah is critical as a tourist attraction. "The natural beauty surrounding us is basic to the comeback for this economy."
Oveson said the Bangerter administration has been instrumental in decreasing the amount of hazardous waste dumped in Utah because it has raised the fees to do so.
The three also agreed the way to handle the AIDS crisis in Utah is through education."You need to help us get around the value tugs and emotions of AIDS," Wilson told the audience. All three candidates said they have received a federal AIDS-education pamphlet and are impressed with its frankness. "We discussed it with our oldest daughter last night," said Oveson.
There were some differences in the issues each stressed. For instance, Wilson said, "I'm concerned about the exodus of health-care workers from Utah."
He noted several rural hospitals are closing from financial pressure and the doctors and nurses are moving out of state. "Choosing to live outside a metropolitan area should not mean you are choosing to live without health care."
Oveson said the present administration emphasized the importance of prenatal care, lowering the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease and preventing accidents.
When asked how he felt about the teen pregnancy rate in Utah, Cook responded, "We have to recognize sex education in schools, but it is incumbent on the school districts to work as close as they can with the communities, with the families,"
Both Wilson and Oveson stated their opposition to a tax-rollback that would reduce gasoline, sales and property-tax income to the state by an estimated $350 million. "The cut would be devastating," said Wilson. "We need to take from the abstract and put into the particular. What services are you going to cut? Immunizations? Prenatal care?"
Cook disagreed and said the tax rollback is needed to stimulate the economy. He said he had ideas for cutting back six different state departments to achieve the reduction but did not specify whether health services is one of them.