Utah Fights For Clean Air

by Marcia Yerman

When most Americans think about Utah, they may envision pristine landscapes and crystal clear air. They would be surprised to learn that the state capital, Salt Lake City, has garnered the number seven spot of America’s 10 most polluted cities on the The American Lung Association State of the Air 2012.

Ordinary citizens are fighting back, demanding that the polluters be reined in. At the forefront of the pushback are parents and doctors.

Cecilee Price-Huish, President of the Davis County Community Coalition, is the mother of five children ages six to 16. I caught up with her in between her meeting her youngest at his kindergarten class and accompanying him on a field trip. Price-Huish was troubled when she found out that the HollyFrontier refinery near her home wanted to build their own power plant. Part of the plan was the use of Petcoke, which she characterized as a “thick black sludge laden with heavy metals and a dirtier power source than coal.”

Price-Huish informed me that there are presently five refineries in the greater Salt Lake City area within five miles off the Interstate 15 — where all the major population centers are located.

According to Price-Huish, the presence of refineries in the vicinity dates back to 1910. She said, This long history creates a kind of an ever present fixture on the landscape — both physically and psychologically.” In an area where “everyone knows someone who has respiratory distress or childhood asthma,” Price-Huish and a neighbor determined, “We have to get involved.” Discussing Utah’s dubious distinction of having the “worst air in the nation during January and February when there is a thick fog,” Price-Huish said, “We have red alert days where kids and the elderly are advised to stay inside.”

Price-Huish reached out to Utah Moms For Clean Air and the Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment for support. Dr. Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist, is the President and founder of the latter group. By telephone, he brought me up to speed on the challenges Utah has been facing.

Moench’s awareness began in the winter of 2007. He explained, “We had a stretch of the worst pollution I had ever experienced, so my colleagues and I started investigating what the public health consequences were. We called then Gov. John Huntsman and made a formal presentation to him. He was alarmed and made it a priority.” Moench added, “His successor is much more conservative. Currently, there is no will at the State government level.” In fact, Moench noted that the state “wants to maximize extraction—which is incompatible with reducing pollution.”

The UPHE website, which is chock full of information, is updated every couple of weeks. There I read about their numerous actions, including the lawsuit against Kennecott Utah Copper. I also learned that three of Utah’s refineries use the toxic chemical hydrofluoric acid (HF), which impacts the human body from the eyes and bones to the respiratory and digestive tracts.

According to Moench, refining pollution is extremely toxic. He discussed how the most heavily populated part of Utah is subjected to the “bowl effect,” which means that the mountains hold in the pollution. “Kids consume more oxygen, they breathe faster and their heat rates are higher, so they inhale more pollution.” Earlier exposure in life is a guarantee that the damage is “greater and with long consequences.” Since Utah has the highest birth rate in the nation, the impact to the population is proportionately greater.

Referencing the incumbent Congressman from District 1, Rep. Rob Bishop, Moench said,“He has no understanding of or appreciation for the connection between environmental protection and public health protection.” Moench qualified Bishop as “part of the ringleaders of the Republican Party in Utah that are trying to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and put them under state jurisdiction for the purpose of fossil fuel and mineral extraction.”

Bishop will be competing to retain his seat in November. Two Democrats are vying for the right to go toe-to-toe with him. I was able to speak with Donna McAller by telephone. She said, “It shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.” She expressed concern about the consequences of “lawmakers becoming beholden to donors.” For her, the bottom line was,“Industry, the environment, and the economy are not mutually exclusive. The quality of air has a direct economic impact, especially regarding tourism, healthcare, the state of the economy, and our future.”

Her opponent, Ryan Combe, sent me his views by e-mail, stating: “With four counties in Utah’s First Congressional District receiving ‘F’ grades on air quality I don’t think now is the is the [sic] time to increase the number of facilities, as they are already the largest contributors to our poor air quality. I understand the need to expand the economic activities in Northern Utah, but as a father of two young active children I am passionate that expansion must be done responsibly and without detriment to our communities. What is the benefit of an expanded economy if we are crippling our health in the process?”

I spoke with Dr. Neil Carman, an environmental scientist, former state air pollution inspector, and clean air program director for the Texas Sierra Club. He has written extensively about how children’s health is threatened by air toxics. When I asked him if those living in Utah should be concerned about the use of Petcoke he responded, “It’s a very dirty material. When you make Petcoke you are making cancer-causing chemicals in multiple forms. It’s a mess.” Addressing the issues for children he said, “Children are more vulnerable because they play outside 50 percent more than adults, and they tend to be mouth breathers. They are exposed to the life long potential to develop cancer. It is also a concern for unborn fetuses. From the initial exposure to the mother you get multi-generational effects. In a nutshell, children suffer the greatest health damage from air pollution.”

Carman’s advice to parents was direct. He emphasized, “Mother’s need to be proactive because they can’t depend on either the state agencies or the refineries to be totally truthful. Everything is sugar coated. For the oil companies, it’s all about big money. It’s a cat and mouse game.”

With the efforts of Cecilee Price-Huish, Dr. Brian Moench, and the Utah Moms for Clean Air working to educate the public, there is an opportunity for the playing field to be leveled.

Check out Moms Clean Air Force Utah State Page and please take action with Moms Clean Air Force


Related Stories:

Theater Teaches the Science of Clean Air

Getting Political On The Playground

Why Does Banning Plastic Help Us Breathe?


Photo credit: Air Linda Bucklin


Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago

thank you =)

Nicole McIntyre
Nicole McIntyre5 years ago

I am so surprised to hear that Salt Lake City is #7!
Everyone nowadays, our air quality is horrific and something MAJOR needs to be done. Educating people is great but most often that does not result in the type of change that we want. In this situation however, we would all need to stop living the way we do in order to reduce green house gas emissions. What we need more than water, food and shelter is our planet and we need to start making it a priority. The question is how?

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez5 years ago

way to go!

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B5 years ago


Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers5 years ago


No Body
Chi Warrior5 years ago

Welcome to the startup of The Phoenix Hydrogen Co-op. My goal is to raise one thousand trillion australian dollars in capital investment. To build the Solar Hydrogen Economy. The Solar hydrogen Economy is build on the energy transformation of sunshine(photons) into electricity in the Australian desert, then we use this solar electricity to split sea water into the elements of oxygen and hydrogen. We can release the oxygen into the atmosphere and store the solar hydrogen gas as fuel.

Solar hydrogen gas has three times the energy content of fossil fuels, when compared on a kilogram per kilogram bases or a pound for pound ratio.

My goal is to employ a fund raiser for each ten million dollars in donations, until we reach a global group of fund raisers of 700,000 for a donation of seven trillion


Please recycle and email this message to all of your friends and may friendship save the earth

Linda Rust
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you Ruth R. for offering the solution. I lived in northern Utah for 3 years and it is the perfect place to install solar-powered energy systems. Maybe the state govt. could spend some of it's budget offering grants or rebates to citizens who want to install such devices. They could subsidize businesses who want to manufacture and install those systems just to get things started. Green energy could save the economy and the earth. Let's keep reminding President Obama of that. It was one of his campaign principles, and one of the reasons I voted for him. Utah could set a great example for how a green economy can be practical and really work for everyone.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Government is very much NEEDED to manage the commons including the economy as well as natural resources and man-made infrastructure. There is a limit to how much **** the natural world can manage to manage and self-clean itself without help from humans. Back in the 1800s and even early 1900s, the world seemed to manage to cope with human waste and still keep the situation fairly well under control. Now human governments need to regulate waste disposal to keep both the natural world and humans from choking on the waste. The economy is also part of the commons. Economies work fairly well with a GINI Index (measure of how much the rich are rich and the poor are poor) between 25 and 40. Gini Index below 25, economy stagnates from lack of incentive. Gini index above 40, economy goes boom and bust and looks like the end game of a game of Monopoly from all the cream rising to the top and clotting instead of getting stirred back down some with the skim milk some. The bust is when so much money has risen to the top than the rich have all fairly well satisfies their desires for goods money can buy and the poor are left with too little money to buy any of the things they need that money can buy.

Karen R.
Karen R5 years ago

taking action, thanks

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

Welcome to my world. as loon as there is money to be made they will ignore the planet where I live. future generations will die of thirst long before the air is too dirty to breath. All I can prey for is that Mother nature clenseher self of the parasite upon her called Man.