All of a sudden everyone seems to be scrambling to get on board the runaway train of turning Salt Lake City into an “inland port.” The port has been declared a “generational opportunity,” will elevate Salt Lake City from the “Crossroads of the West” to the “Crossroads of the World,” and “the largest economic development project that we’ve ever done in the state of Utah.”
Facilitating legislation has passed, and battle lines are already drawn over control of the project, the land grab and distribution of all that supposed “economic treasure” buried in the northwest quadrant just waiting to be dug up. Count us among those who are not on board, and we think when most Utah residents find out where this train is going, they’ll jump off as well.
Several years ago, with considerable public support, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment sued to prevent our refineries from expanding, and one of the main reasons why is because it would add hundreds of daily new truck trips to our freeways with all their diesel emissions. If an inland port became anywhere near as successful as advertised, truck traffic from refinery expansion would pale in comparison to the emissions from all the new trucks, trains and airplanes servicing an inland port. The increased traffic congestion would increase pressure to build more roads and freeways. No one wants Salt Lake City to follow the Los Angeles blueprint for urban sprawl, but we are already headed there. Legislators have already floated the idea of constructing the icon of urban sprawl in Salt Lake City — a double-decker freeway along I-15. The new vehicle emissions from Salt Lake City becoming the “crossroads of the world” would be diesel, which are by far the worst kind.
Despite having only modest winter inversions the last two years, air pollution still consistently ranks in the top three concerns of Utah residents, as it should. The medical research is now indisputable that there is no safe level of air pollution. Wasatch Front air pollution is already a serious health hazard, and it is a year-round problem, not limited to winter inversions.
Be wary of anyone who claims modeling shows we can have an inland port and still meet federal air quality standards. All the health consequences we know are caused by air pollution — premature deaths, strokes, heart attacks, brain disease and dysfunction, decreased lung function, cancer, still births, pregnancy complications, impaired fetal development and shortened life expectancies — are still found with levels far below the federal standards. Furthermore, communities on the west side of Salt Lake City, near the northwest quadrant, already bear a disproportionate amount of this public health burden, and this proposal will increase that disparity.
The mentality that growth is good for its own sake defies the reality of environmental consequences and is unsustainable on a global scale, but particularly so in Utah where air quality, diminishing water resources and a hotter, more hostile climate are already limiting the population-carrying capacity of the Wasatch Front. Making Salt Lake City an inland port would dramatically change the aesthetics, the visible landscape, the air quality and the livability of the place we all call home. Utahns want clean air, clean energy, a clean future and a livable climate. A port would load the economy of the state and the city onto tracks headed in exactly the opposite direction.
Future economic growth of the Salt Lake Valley can be either carefully planned, clean and high tech, or it can be old-school, resource-intensive and a dirty industry. We can pursue a future of an “inland Silicon Valley" with research and financial centers, or we can pursue a future that looks like Pittsburgh from the 1940s. An "inland port” is choosing the latter and will drive away those companies that could bring us the former.6 comments on this story
The special interests driving a port authority could easily shut out citizen input, defy public opinion and create a shortcut to increasing extraction, storage and transportation of bulk commodities like coal, coal ash, oil and gas. All of that would accelerate long-term, hostile climate trends for Utah, the West and the country.
The consequences of tying Utah’s economy more closely to heavy industry are not hard to predict. Those pitching this inland port are turning a blind eye to all of them.