Saturday January 25 marked a day of frustration and hope in Salt Lake City, Utah.
On that day as noon rolled around on the clock, 5,000 people, many donning masks as both a safety precaution and as a statement, gathered on the south-facing lawn of the Utah State Capitol Building to demand clean air in the Salt Lake Valley.
Clean air demands came in song and in the form of chants that completed the tone and feeling of a rally. People carried signs. Even children came, many with signs of their own design and making.
The Salt Lake Valley, or Wasatch Front, is plagued by an inversion that holds pollution in the valley creating a toxic, cold dome Utah residents are forced to survive in–though survival is getting more and more difficult to achieve.
The Wasatch Front would have an inversion (where the air near the surface of the earth is colder than it is above instead of warmer) regardless of population or pollutants. It is a phenomenon of the weather and geography. But given that inversion, it is essential to live sustainably enough that residents can remain healthy regardless of the inversion. At present, Utah is not equipped to do so and in fact exceeds the EPA’s limits of particulate emissions (Read: Utah is breaking the law, besides killing people, but continues to spew emissions).
And this is where the rally comes in.
The local Utah government is in denial about the air quality problems we face. Residents receive constant admonitions to drive less. While driving less, taking public transit, and carpooling are all prudent activities, these reminders are moot. Cars without a doubt pollute and contribute to bad air quality. However, from my home to my place of employment, I pass six or seven refineries, factories, etc. Some of these plants have even been approved for expansion despite that our particulate level is beyond what is approved by the EPA.
So, we have bad air. It is literally killing people. And our government refuses to acknowledge the problem, approves refinery expansion, won’t invest in clean energy, and puts the entire blame on the driving habits of the citizens of Utah.
Our little rally of 5,000 was a call to action to the local government of Utah, Governor Gary Herbert in particular, who often seems hell-bent on destroying what marvelous beauty Utah has to offer.
The rally included as speakers advocates from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Moms for Clean Air, Athletes for Clean Air and Mormon Environmental Stewardship Association among many others.
Additionally, attorney Joro Walker was issued the “People’s Attorney of the Year” for her work fighting against expansions of Kennecott and Tesoro.
UPHE revealed that while smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer in Utah, at increasing rates non-smokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of the bad air quality in Utah.
Revered broadcast journalist Dick Nourse also attended as speaker and presenter (his first protest, he declared). He is a survivor of throat cancer who is convinced his cancer is a result of living in Salt Lake for the last several decades.
A petition has been circulating around the Internet and there were opportunities for rally attendees who hadn’t yet signed it to add their names to the list of petitioners. The petition includes:
I. Transportation Reform
• Expand mass transit through better funding, expanded service, and affordable fares that encourage increased use.
• Ten-year moratorium on new freeway construction.
• Statewide requirement for the latest emissions controls for all diesel engines, both commercial and public.
II. Big Industry Sources
• A ten-year moratorium on expansions and new fossil-generated power plants. This includes the oil refineries, Kennecott Copper, cement plants and any other heavy industrial point sources.
• Mandate maximum pollution control technology on existing plants within two years.
III. Smaller Industry Sources
• Close Stericycle NOW.
• Ban open industrial and agricultural burning. Includes ATK, metal recyclers, Hill Air Force Base, etc.
• Phase out and relocate Geneva gravel operations at Point of the Mountain.
IV. Regulatory Authority
• Allow state and local governments to enact stricter air quality rules than the federal government.
• Increase funds for the Division of Air Quality so they can do their job, including statewide monitoring and enforcement.
• End the domination of the Air Quality Board by industry. Restructure with equal representation from health and environmental interests.
V. Dirty Energy
• Stop permitting tar sands and oil shale. Stop making Utah the dirty energy capitol of the U.S.!
• Utah’s electric providers should give consumers more choices for clean, renewable energy.
• Implement a strong energy efficiency building code for all new residential and commercial buildings.
• Enact programs that encourage distributed generation and home/business heating (I.e., rooftop solar to power homes and electric cars, and geothermal heating)
• NO tacked on utility fees for home generated electricity.
During this legislative session it is imperative to remember to contact your legislators and remind them that the air is filthy, that people are sick, and that kids can’t go outside for recess. It is essential to remember that when you live in an inversion-prone area not only is it unwise to produce emissions at what might be considered a normal rate, it is unthinkable and irresponsible and deadly to produce emissions above what is approved by the EPA!
Sign the petition. Make phone calls. Write letters and emails. Find your representatives on Twitter and send them a Twitter storm. As was said at the rally, clean air is a basic human right. Dirty air impacts every aspect of our health and day-t0-day life. But clean air is within our grasp. Make your voice be known. Pester the legislators, vote out the dirty air advocates come November.
Dirty air isn’t something we have to live with.
To sign the petition click here.