When We Think Of Smog??

“Los Angeles, Chicago, or Atlanta Comes To Mind”

The Usual Suspects above are not the topic for this discussion:

When Utah earned the dubious distinction as one of the biggest producers of toxic chemicals in the country in 2017, there was a lot of finger wagging and excuses and very few solid answers. Where was all this junk in the air and water coming from?

The short answer is Kennecott and the Bingham Copper Mine, formerly the largest copper mine in the world. Their smelters and power plant make them the top contributor to chemicals leaked both into the water and emitted into the air. But beyond that rather basic answer, it gets rather complicated.

A recent energy summit conducted by Governor Hebert estimated that only 13% of pollutants along the Wasatch front are large industry related, with 29% coming from small industry sources like gas stations, dry cleaners, and commercial wood stoves. An overwhelming 48% of Salt Lake City’s pollution comes from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, and buses. There have been various studies conducted over the years and by different organizations, but they all point towards motor vehicles as the largest source of particulates in the air.

Once you’ve determined that motor vehicles are the crux of the problem, we just begin to scratch the surface of the issue. Because sulfur impedes the ability of a car’s emission system to work properly, compounding the effects of pollution. Sulfur emissions, commonly from oil refineries, turn out to be a sneaky culprit of pollution.

Utah does have five small refineries, but they all fall under EPA rules that allow for a more generous time frame to meet air quality standards. Silver Eagle, the smallest of these refineries, already meets EPA standards for sulfur emissions. Chevron has promised their refinery will do so by 2019. Tesoro, which owns the largest of the refineries, has been a bit more lazze-faire. They claim they’ll meet EPA standards and reduce their sulfur emissions by two-thirds sometime in the next 3–5 years.

Hopefully before my the children of Salt Lake City’s bronchial tubes are permanently scarred by inflammation. But you know, with the Trump Administrations EPA Director Pruitt those hopeful results are not in the realm of reality.

Next up are small industry sources, which have a larger impact on air quality and are entirely within the jurisdiction of state and local authorities. Gas stations, dry cleaners, wood and gas stoves in small businesses or restaurants all contribute to what is referred to as small industry pollution. And yet, under a GOP-controlled state government, they are allowed to operate virtually unchecked. On red air days, wood burning is restricted, and fines are imposed, but enforcement is sporadic or non-existent. Lackadaisical zoning laws and a lack of urban planning have placed many of these sources of small industry pollution directly in the path of residential areas and schools.

And finally, we come to the inconvenient truth. Our addiction to fossil fuels isn’t just killing us. It’s killing our kids.

While Salt Lake City is very much an urban area, it still functions as part of a rural state where distances are vast and public transit non-existent. We do have a mass transit system that includes buses and more recently TRAX, which runs trains along a few key commuter routes and from locations across the valley to downtown hubs. But service is sporadic and depending on where you live, not feasible as a primary mode of transportation.

Let’s give you an example. Say I wanted to take my daughter to school using mass transit. If I drive our car from where I live to her charter school in the Avenues, it’s a drive of 18 miles. It takes me 30 minutes and costs $2.57 in gas.

Because the closest TRAX station to me is five miles away and not served by a direct bus route, Ride UTA suggests this is the fastest route to my daughter’s school.

That’s right. I’d need to walk 1.2 miles, ride a bus for 50 minutes, walk half a mile, transfer to another bus for ten minutes, and then walk another half mile to the school. It would require my six-year-old daughter and I to walk 1.5 miles, spend 64 minutes in transit, and cost $2.50.

I’m beginning to see why only 25% of commuters to Salt Lake City use mass transit. And it’s not just me. Having a family with kids is the norm in Utah, with large suburban sprawls that increase commute time. Even carpooling is problematic. Studies show that in the Beehive state, at least 1 in 5 people in carpool lanes are single occupancy vehicles in violation of the law. Utah also keeps gas taxes low and has no plans to raise them in 2018.

Utah Republicans cleave to their SUVs and trucks and their vehement anti-regulation rhetoric. And they have no plans to give them up anytime soon, no matter how chewy the air gets

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