Government in Utah is allowing increases for polluting fossil fuel and mineral extraction at the expense of citizens. The draft State Implementation 2.5pm Plan (2.5PM SIP) acknowledges that industry pollutants will grow by 12 percent, which will backfill reductions by citizens, who are being asked to drive less and buy more expensive nonpolluting autos as well. Citizens have a chance to comment on this now. Given the massive fossil fuel reserves in Utah, the SIP will likely leave us in the same place or worse, unless the Department of Air Quality requires more stringent regulations.
The government and industry line is that new jobs will advance the economy. The missing piece of this line is that the economy will be advanced by industrial development with many jobs, but the 2 million folks affected by this increased pollution will have to sacrifice their lifestyles and, more so, their health. When you purchase a cellphone, which uses copper; switch on the lights, which use electricity from coal-fired power plants, or buy gasoline or natural gas for your car, the price reflects the production cost. There is an additional cost that consumers pay out of pocket: the health costs and shortened lives from pollutants.
These costs are referred to as externalities (i.e., costs passed on to the public), which industrial polluters do not pay and are liabilities they do not carry on balance sheets. These are rarely discussed by government. Utah government officials lull citizens to distraction from these issues with the mantra “the air quality is better than it was” and also “clean air will take decades,” a statement meant to pass the buck. The current degraded air quality in Utah harms and kills, and, more so, can be fixed now.
A report, “Air Pollution and Early Deaths in the United States: Part I, Quantifying the Impact of Major Sectors in 2005,” by Caizzo et. al, Atmospheric Science, 2013, tells a story of the externalized costs which citizens pay for pollution: The largest contributor to deaths per year is road transportation generated from burning fossil fuels in combustion engines.
Industry attorneys penned a law preventing the Utah Department of Air Quality from regulating more stringently than the EPA. The exception is: “The Board may make rules more stringent than corresponding federal regulations for the purpose described in Subsection (1), if it makes a written finding based on evidence in the record, that corresponding federal regulations are not adequate to protect public health of the state.”
A massive amount of data is available regarding the death and illness rates of the 653 air pollutants emitted in Utah — the DAQ Board should have made more stringent regulations. The numbers for Utah’s population and industrial development growth command more stringent regulation if we are ever to keep pollutants below health risk levels. And we know that the EPA is working on more stringent regulations all the time.
In 2008, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment made a presentation to the DAQ Board which did not move on the medical issues. Since then, medical research has made a more powerful case for the health risks and costs of air pollutants and the Board has not moved.
Gov. Gary Herbert formed the Clean Air Action Team, of which I am a member, modeled after a plan I produced with Utah Moms for Clean Air. The first and second meetings have been encouraging. The opportunities for the team are large. However, the legislature and the governor need to muster the political will to thwart the resistance headwinds from the oil, coal and gas industries; Utah Department of Transportation, and some Utah citizens, whose lifestyles will need to change to secure clean airsheds around the state.
The choice for the governor and the legislature in this beautiful state, now ranked the fourth most toxic in the U.S. (Toxic Release Inventory), is to create a society to match the scenery or experience a second Silent Spring.
Terry Marasco is the interim director of Utah Moms for Clean Air and a member of the Utah Clean Air Alliance.