Op-eds: pollution, development and growth

A few recent op-eds in the Salt Lake Tribune really resonated with UPHE’s mission. It’s great to hear the community’s input and opinions so this page is dedicated to amplifying their voices. We hope to encourage others to write op-eds about an issue near and dear to their heart.

Pollution is plaguing our school kids 

UPHE’s Priority Issue: Air purifiers in schools

Click the image for the op-ed in the Tribune.

Jenna Marie Tiller, a fourth year medical student at the University of Utah, had an excellent op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune about the real crisis plaguing Utah’s children – air pollution. 

Tiller’s op-ed opens with a story about a student struggling in school, which she relates to his exposure to high levels of air pollution. This story is all too familiar in Utah. Research has shown a strong connection between high levels of pollution and lower brain function. Tiller cites a study done right in Salt Lake County that showed “Disproportionate exposure in public schools based on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (which) is concerning, given that air pollution has negative impacts on children’s health and academic performance.”

“I have spent most of my life in school training to become a doctor for these little ones. Children are the most vulnerable of populations. Every child should be able to breathe clean air no matter where they live, the money in their parent’s bank or the color of their skin. They look to us, the adults, to raise our voices to the change makers.

In a state that professes protecting children, we must do better. We must focus on issues that truly harm our children. Our children are being exposed to neurotoxins that will impact their entire life,” Tiller writes. 

Air pollution’s effect on brain development and function has been a cornerstone of UPHE’s work since our inception. Younger children are more susceptible to the negative impacts of poor air quality. Indoor air quality can be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air quality, according to the EPA, and children spend around 900 hours every year in school. A Utah Department of Health and Human Services program is making those hours as healthy as possible by providing air purifiers for classrooms. 
UPHE is helping coordinate the program for free air purifiers for Utah K-12 schools and state licensed daycares.

Please click here for more information on the program.

The only thing that grows infinitely is cancer

UPHEs Priority Issue: Gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Click the image for the op-ed in the Tribune.

One theme that seems to be prevailing with little caution or consideration from local and state agencies is growth. Murray resident, Steve Camp, expressed concern over the fixation on growth for the Wasatch Front in his Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola is ideology of a cancer cell

“It isn’t enough to welcome 50,000 more people to Utah last year while our quality of life spirals, our roads clog and a place to live becomes increasingly unaffordable. Now UDOT, admittedly concerned only with transporting more paying clients to a couple of ski resorts, recommends ravaging one of our idyllic canyons with a colossal monstrosity of corporate welfare and an environmental affront to the Creator,” Camp writes.

Camp lists a few other solutions to consider, including this from his op-ed, “It’s past time to shift the paradigm away from “Everybody, Anytime, All-At-Once.” Snowbird and Alta sit on finite parcels of land (mostly public in Alta’s case) where there exists only one way in and one way out. So, it follows that their facilities can only accommodate a finite number of skiers and their cars at any one time.

When concert and athletic venues sell all their seats, they’re sold out. Powder Mountain limits ticket sales to avoid overcrowding. Several national parks, including Arches, now require online timed registration to enter. There is no reason LCC resorts can’t do the same for parking and for skiing. Once reservation capacity is reached, the resort is sold out for the day and patrons (including season pass holders) are advised online. The incentive for the resorts to self manage would come from offering guests a higher quality experience — more time on the slopes and less time in their cars and lift lines. If resorts can’t make a reasonable profit doing honest business, then they shouldn’t be in business at all.” 

UPHE wrote in comments to the Utah Department of Transportation that the gondola is essentially “a public subsidy to the ski industry, at the expense of virtually all other users of the canyon. Furthermore, with the rapid evolution of the climate crisis, it is certain that the ski industry will markedly contract because of shorter winters and less snowfall. To that extent, money spent on rail or a gondola will become partially, if not totally, a stranded asset, i.e. a complete waste of money.”

Is Utah turning into everything it hates about California?

UPHE’s Priority Issue: The Inland Port

Click the image for the op-ed in the Tribune.

This op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune calls out hypocrisy and captures the frustrations of many Wasatch Front residents as our state grows. If there’s one thing Utahns can relate to, it’s our critiques of fellow Western state, California. However, recent growth has narrowed the distinction between the two states. 

“Growing up on the Wasatch front, a familiar guiding principle of Utah’s ideology and politics was not becoming a “California.” The catch-all term describes unaffordable, hot, traffic-heavy, polluted cities mixed in with housing crises, violence, wildfires and droughts,” Toph Cottle, author of the op-ed, writes. 

We are seeing our communities spread to previously undeveloped land, streets and highways widen, and traffic increase. All of these have negative implications for air quality, and quality of life. 

Cottle describes what he saw in his hometown, “Bigger roads cut through communities and make traffic pile up and more dangerous for our neighborhoods, cannibalizing the same desirable qualities that brought people there in the first place. Instead of investing in our existing communities, we decide new ones are preferable. But what happens once we run out of property to develop?”

Development has become a keystone issue in environmental, air quality, and quality of life battles. Last year, we fought a plan to dredge and build islands for development on Utah Lake. We’re currently fighting a subsidy to ski resorts that defaces Little Cottonwood Canyon, a proposal to expand I-15, and massive freight transferring facilities across the state. All projects are touted as necessary for growth and development.  

Cottle suggests focusing on improving existing communities and quality of life rather than expanding. We urge the same foresight. Our geographic location and susceptibility to poor air quality require us to develop strategically to not poison our communities. This means commuter alternatives to driving, walkable and bikeable cities, and water conservation-focused development. 

All planning for the future of SLC must first consider air quality

UPHE’s Priority Issue: Great Salt Lake

Click the image for the op-ed in the Tribune.

Salt Lake City has some exciting developments that residents are talking about. One of the most recent is the potential of hosting a Major League Baseball team. 

We echo the sentiment expressed in this recent op-ed written by Tom Huckin, a Salt Lake City resident, who warns long term development plans require plans to clean the air

After comparing the timeline scientists have given Great Salt Lake and the timeline of a new stadium being operational, Huckin writes that “by the time the stadium is built, toxic air filled with arsenic, magnesium, PM 2.5 particles and other poisons will be blowing through Salt Lake City, including the Fairpark area where the stadium will be. Unless the new stadium has a covered roof, this air will poison all the tens of thousands of fans inside.”

Despite recent water gains, Great Salt Lake is still far from being considered at a healthy or stable level. Measures currently in place don’t go far enough to sustain it. The state is pushing highway-clogging development of freight transfer facilities that will degrade our air quality much further, and considering new and expanding mining operations around the city. 

The promise of a booming city with recreation and fulfillment for residents requires a city that is livable and breathable. We are hopeful that meaningful action will follow the support exhibited by residents for a cleaner, healthier Utah.

Click the image for a list of tips that can help make your impact on air quality a positive one!