Inland Port Transloading Facility is a Betrayal of the Public Interest

Dr. Brian Moench, Press Conference, September 20, 2021

September 20 Press Conference

About twelve years ago, shortly after our physicians’ organization had launched our campaign to address air pollution in Utah, at a public meeting someone asked one of our legislators what we could do about our air pollution.  He said, “Well, we could pray for a storm.”  Like many others, I did a lot of praying for storms but all we seemed to get was dust storms. So I decided to pray even harder for new legislators. 

Like many of you, I’ve had multiple air purifiers going full blast in my house since June. Yesterday, the air finally cleared up.  That lasted for about 8 hours, then a dust storm blew in.  We have good air quality today, but it will deteriorate again as soon as tomorrow.  It was the same last summer, and the summer before that. We used to have the worst air pollution in the world for several days during winter inversions.  Now, we don’t have much of a winter anymore, but we still have several days of the worst air pollution in the world because the West is burning up. We have reached a new normal where clean air feels like a luxury.  Try and get all your breathing in today, because the Utah Inland Port Authority will be voting shortly to make days like today increasingly rare. 

In virtually every poll taken, air pollution has long since become the number one issue of concern of the public, and they’re tired of it. Polls taken also show the majority of Salt Lake Valley citizens don’t want the inland port. Over the last few years, we can all see an unmistakable trend, the climate crisis, with high ozone and constant wildfire smoke for months on end, punctuated by dust storms. This has become the new normal.  Because of this new pollution paradigm, this summer Salt Lake City repeatedly made international news, and not the kind that will be a boon to our economy.

Our most powerful legislators are not only not doing anything about any of this, they are actively working to make all of it worse. In May, they hijacked our Division of Air Quality and forced them to make a contorted appeal to the EPA to exempt Utah from having to comply with an already far too weak ozone standard, because our biggest industrial polluters asked them to. 

Two days ago one of our legislators said, “We should focus on the progress that has been made over the years to improve air quality. We have better air now than we’ve had. So if that’s a crisis, people still are living and moving here.” Yes, Senator, you are correct, some people are still living here. Air pollution hasn’t killed everyone yet, but it’s got a good start on it. Research from BYU suggests it kills somewhere between 2,500 and 8,000 every year in Utah, and that doesn’t really account for what is becoming our worst source of pollution, wildfire smoke.  

Our forests are drying out and burning up, our rivers and reservoirs are shriveling up.  We just experienced our hottest summer on record and our driest year on record. The devastating impacts of the climate crisis are everywhere and the evidence is overwhelming that it will only get worse.

But our legislature keeps dragging all of us deeper and deeper into their climate denial hole, proclaiming last week that digging more Utah dirty energy like coal was “good common sense.”

Today we are in front of the offices of Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) because through the port authority the legislature has created an unelected, unaccountable board to control the most important decision made in Salt Lake City in our modern history. In one fell swoop, they created the means to smother democracy, the will of the people, and our air quality. They have given this board virtual carte blanche to hide from reality and to plunder our environment even more.

We all recognize we are in a crippling drought and climate scientists warn it will last for decades. So how does the legislature respond? This inland port will suck up more of our dwindling water supply, and even help ship more of it to Asia in the form of alfalfa.  The shrinking of our lakes is now responsible for 90% of our dust and eroding the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. 

In the spirit of the increasingly popular exercise of fact denial, the port authority is now telling everyone a preposterous story that the dirty energy inland port will actually clean up our air by taking diesel trucks off our highways, the exact opposite of what every other port, inland or coastal, has experienced, and the exact opposite of the reality here in Utah. 

The legislature and the Port Authority have promised this will be an economic bonanza. But the experience at other inland ports tells a much different story. The jobs created are mostly low wage jobs, with no benefits, and little benefit to the community. Even those jobs will be eventually lost to automation.

In other communities, the real bonanza has been in air pollution. The truth is the port will bring us new air pollution, via tens of thousands more diesel trucks, over 150,000 more cars every day, and more pollution from trains, planes, heavily polluting diesel equipment, and construction dust for decades. There will be much more traffic congestion on our roadways, including pressure to double decker I-15. 

A few years ago, the excuse the legislature gave for not doing more to build our economy on clean energy was they didn’t want to be in the business of picking winners and losers. The action the port authority will be taking this afternoon will force Utah taxpayers to subsidize port businesses that wouldn’t be profitable otherwise and at a very high interest rate. In doing so, here they are today, not only picking the winners, but making you subsidize them. And the winners are certainly not clean air or clean energy. The winners are Rio Tinto, the Colmena group, a few other land speculators, and construction companies. The losers are everyone else who breathes, who looks forward to a future where we actually solve our serious problems, instead of making them worse. A future where we stop exploiting the 250,000 people on the West side by making them inhale the pollution we will be importing from California.

In about two hours, a vote by the Port Authority will have a tremendous influence on the future of Salt Lake City. If they vote against spending your tax dollars on a transloading facility, we can start to pursue a clean future–clean air, clean energy, and clean industry. If they vote for it, it will open the gates to a much more ominous and darker future. One where a handful of people, some of whom don’t even live here, make a lot of money, and the rest of us will pay for it–some with our lives, many with their health, and all of us with our pocketbook.

If the Port Authority votes for this transloading facility, it will be a full frontal betrayal of the public interest and the common good.  

Dr. Brian Moench, September 20 Press Conference