Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Data Battle

"War has erupted between clean-air activists and state leaders, with the battleground being the data driving decisions about Utah's air quality"  Do not be mistaken, the numbers do matter.  To solve any problem, we first need to identify the major causes.  The data helps us do this.  However, this war of numbers does confuse the issue, and probably on purpose.  The Governor would love us to spend all of our energies engaging him over whether or not his data is accurate or fair or meaningful, but this isn’t the real war. 

First, we can slice the pie into however many pieces we want, but in the end, the pie is gone.  Even if an 11% contribution from industry were credible, we first demand to see the current mess cleaned up, then we can discuss expansion of industry.

But instead of that reasonable approach, Governor Herbert would like us to keep fighting over data from now until spring because as an added benefit, framing the “war” this way, makes environmental groups look anti-business.  When in doubt the public will prefer the lower, less-concerning numbers of the state and conclude that the real motive of environmental groups must be to shut down industry.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with industry.  I have a problem with industry poisoning our airshed, and I think whatever the true pollution figures, industry in our bowl-shaped valley should pride itself on taking leadership in best environmental practice.  Why accept mediocrity? 

And that takes us to the final point.  Why should industry, or anyone else, clean up their act, even if it costs more?  Because conservation is a virtue in and of itself, and wastefulness is shameful no matter how richly blessed we are.  Here lies the penultimate battle.  

Recently, I was driving my husband’s Nissan Leaf up I-15 in medium traffic.  I was driving 68 mph and being tailgated by an enormous 4X4 diesel Ford pick-up truck.  The truck passed on my left, cut in front of me, put on the breaks, then floored the accelerator.  In one loud roar, that truck spewed a black cloud of exhaust big enough to lose my Leaf in. 

Clearly this “gentleman” (I have other words I would prefer to use, but probably they wouldn’t make it past any browser filters), was trying to make some kind of point about how stupid I was for driving an electric vehicle.  This man wants it to remain socially acceptable to pollute, just for the sake of polluting, and my electric vehicle represents a challenge to that way of thinking.

The real war isn’t in determining how much of a percent that diesel 4X4 contributes to the problem.  We fight the real war in convincing that truck’s driver that senseless polluting and waste will no longer be tolerated in our society.  As long as people carelessly and willfully pollute, simply because they can, industry will exploit that apathy for profit and to our detriment.  We may battle the Governor and his policies, but the driver of that truck elected the Governor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Protesting the West Davis Corridor

UDOT has proposed the Glover Lane option of the West Davis Corridor (WDC), and it seems to be the option they're taking most seriously right now.  They are planning on putting a new freeway that will run along the north of Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area.  The new freeway will run as close as .4 miles from the new education center; how do you educate children on the importance of wetlands from the shoulder of a freeway?  The freeway will also be within .2 miles of the public entrance to Farmington Bay, and will run between 400-500 ft of Glover Ponds on the the west end (this is where Farmington Bay's famous Heron rookery is).  The freeway is projected to have 22,0000-29,000 cars travel it on a daily basis. 

Farmington Bay is an 18,000 acre wildlife management area that was established in 1935.  There have been over 200 documented species on the management area, and hundreds of thousands of birds use it for nesting or as a stopping point on their annual migration.  Waterfowl numbers can exceed 200,000 ducks during peak migration.  Farmington Bay WMA is critical breeding habitat for thousands of ducks, terns, grebes, herons, egrets, ibis, and songbirds.  In addition to the breeding habitat that Farmington Bay provides, it provides critical wintering habitat for Bald Eagles, Rough-Legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls.  Putting a freeway along the north end of Farmington Bay will have detrimental effects on large numbers of birds along the Wasatch Front, and it could also affect the migratory patterns of many species. 

From an air quality standpoint, the WDC makes no sense.  Our local government is telling us that they're doing everything they can to clean up our air along the Wasatch Front, and they're pointing the finger at us, telling us to drive less.  How exactly is building another freeway promoting driving less?  With freeways come development, and the increased pollution will follow.  This freeway will not simply reroute existing traffic, it will encourage new traffic.  We don't need a new freeway.  UDOT should properly assess the threat of a doubling population, and work with UTA to sustainably address those transportation needs. 

On February 21, Bryce Bird, director of the Department of Air Quality, said that one of the keys to reduced pollution was "smart growth."  This new freeway isn't smart growth.  It's stupid growth that will have negative consequences on our air quality along the Wasatch Front. 

The protest of the WDC took place last Saturday, and it was a smashing success.  Around 200 people braved a near blizzard to come out and oppose the WDC.  Birders, hunters, equestrians, cyclists, joggers, and clean air activists all banded together to protest a freeway that makes no sense. 

Here are some pictures I took of the rally: 

A statement that accurately reflects the impacts this could have on wildlife

What an artist!

The educational benefits of Farmington Bay will be diminished with a nearby freeway

Great pictures

A budding artist and activist

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Breath of Fresh Air

A Breath of Fresh Air by Danielle Loranger - February 21, 2013

When I reached the top of the cirque traverse at Snowbird Resort, I spent a moment appreciating the panoramic view of the snow capped Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake valley below me. The mountains are what brought me out West to Salt Lake City, Utah a unique location that offers world famous ski resorts within an hours drive from downtown. Salt Lake City’s mountains are the perfect playgrounds for residents that live active and healthy lifestyles. However, the breath taking view from atop Snowbird was ruined once I noticed the thick haze of pollution trapped above the Salt Lake valley. Rather than for it’s snow, in the past year Salt Lake City has made headlines for having the worst air pollution in the country, Forbes Magazine has labeled Salt Lake City as one of the “most toxic” cities to live in. I was enthusiastic about living in Salt Lake City the first few years I presided here, but after witnessing the inversion worsen each year I am beginning to question if living in the city with the world’s greatest snow is worth sacrificing my health for.

Temperature inversions often happen during the months of December and January when there is increased snowfall in the Salt Lake City valley. An inversion occurs when atmospheric conditions become inverted and air above the ground is warmer than the air below it. The layer of warm air acts as a lid trapping the cold air above the valley’s floor. Because Salt Lake City is located in a valley surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains the mountains act as barrier preventing the air from mixing. An inversion can remain trapped in the valley for days before it is swept out by the weather. The longer the inversion remains trapped, the more pollution Salt Lake City residents are exposed to.

On January 23, 2013 levels of particulate pollution “rose above 130 micrograms per cubic meter in Salt Lake City” which is three times the federal clean-air limit according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Some days I step outside and feel like I am a canary in a coalmine unable to see the sun shining through the smog that continues to creep closer to the ground. The inversion can linger in the valley for days and the pollution can become severe enough that on “red” days residents are recommended to stay indoors. During the winter season I am always making excuses to stay out of the valley’s dirty air and get into the mountains for a breath of fresh air. Is Salt Lake City doing anything to clean up the air?

With motor vehicles responsible for 57% of the valley’s pollution, residents must change their behavior during the winter season and drive less to combat air pollution. We have the incentive to do so because we are exposed to the pollution daily but what incentives are in place for refineries and industries to clean up their part of the pollution? Refineries and big industries produce surprisingly only 11% of the valley’s pollution. The reason they only contribute to a small portion of the pollution is because some industries are not in operation during the winter season. Kennecott Copper is an example of an industry that does not contribute to emissions during Utah’s winter inversions. Other refineries that choose to operate during the winter season are held to certain emissions standards. The state says that they are doing the best they can to combat the winter smog spike, however the inversion continues to worsen each year. If Salt Lake City does not clean up the air then I will have no choice but to leave the greatest snow on earth for a location that does not smother me with pollution every winter season. 


Fahys, Judy. "Governor Says Public Must Help as Utahns Rally against Pollution | The Salt Lake Tribune Mobile Edition." Governor Says Public Must Help as Utahns Rally against Pollution | The Salt Lake Tribune Mobile Edition. The Salt Lake City Tribune, 6 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

Foy, Paul. "Inversion Smothers Salt Lake." The Spokesman-Review, 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

Brennan, Morgan. "America's 10 Most Toxic Cities." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

Toxic Fog Settles over Salt Lake City, Doctors Warn. CBS News, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

"Salt Lake City Temperature Inversion: What Is It and Why Do We Care?" 28stormscom Your Extreme Weather Source RSS. N.p., 5 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Should We Really Be Focusing On Red Air Days?

So.  If you're reading this blog, chances are, you know what a red air day means.  Just in case you don't, from, a red air day is when "Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects."  So far this winter, there have been 22 red air days.  Red air days are trouble, and they have adverse effects on human health.

We need to take red air days seriously.  I've heard a lot of suggestions having to do with what we should do on red air days.  Some of these suggestions are: drive less, don't use woodstoves, take public transportation that is offered for free by UTA, carpool, shut down operation of refineries,  cut the speed limit to 55, enforce idling laws, shut down Kennecott and other industrial polluters, don't cook hamburgers on open air grills, etc.  These are all great ideas (although, I'm not too sure that the hamburger one would make a huge difference).  I do agree that we need to severely limit any additional pollution on red air days, but really, shouldn't we be focusing our attention elsewhere?

When we get to a red air day, that red air is usually trapped in the valley by an inversion; we can't do much other than sit around and suck it in.  But isn't the real issue is that we let our air achieve the red status?  In my opinion, more energy and creativity should be applied to orange air days, or even yellow air days, so we never even get to red.  We need to apply the above strategies, that most people save for red air days, and apply them every day no matter what sort of air quality we're having along the Wasatch Front.

It sounds utopian, and it would take a lot of hard work from individuals, industry, and government.  I'm pretty sure it could be done.  Prevention is the key; we need to work on reducing our pollution before it reaches that critical threshold where it begins to have negative impacts on human health.  Rather than reaching for the panic button every time a red air day comes along, let's start planning and creatively solve the issue before it gets out of hand. 


Let's use this blog as a forum for clean air solutions!  Alan Matheson recently stated, "If they can come forward with ideas, we'll welcome them. Everything is on the table." Let's call him on it, and do just that!  Use this blog as a space for all your wonderful clean air solutions.  If you'd like to post, please email me at and I will add you as an author. 

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."  -Ed Abbey.