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Coughing Cache residents protest Council inaction on air pollution

February 27th, 2013 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Dani Hayes

LOGAN—Wearing medical breathing masks, protesters gathered in front of the Cache County Historic Courthouse on Tuesday to demand government action against increasing air pollution in the valley, specifically vehicle emission tests. The County Council was holding a public hearing on imposing the tests.

HayesCleanAir1“There is a severe economic crisis here, and of course, health and quality of life on top of everything,” said Jack Greene of Smithfield. “I would like to see a number of actions to take place. One is to see emissions testing. Obviously that isn’t a silver bullet. There is no silver bullet. That might be 10 percent of what needs to be done but we all need to do our part now to make any significance.”

• Related Story: Crowd packs County Council hearing, demands action for better air

On many days this winter, Cache Valley has held the dubious distinction as the most polluted place in America, the result of atmospheric inversions that hold particulate matter—PM 2.5—in the icy foggy that can fill the valley from Paradise to Preston. In January, Utah’s air pollution made national news.

Greene feels the County Council hasn’t heard the residents’ concerns about poor air quality that poses a health hazard to children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems.

“The council is saying that they are not hearing enough from those who support actions like emissions tests—this is bogus. This is not true at all,” he said. Greene wants to see more leadership and listening from elected county officials, especially on issues affecting health and the local economy. He doesn’t want local officials to avoid the air pollution issue any longer, as that could lead to greater federal government influence.

“If they can’t figure it out, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)—the big nasties from back in DC—come in with a big hammer and impose some heavy restrictions to this county, like where we can put roads,” he said. “They know what’s the right thing to do for our health and our future, our economy, or quality of life. They need to show some leadership, show some spine.”

Fellow ralliers at the County Courthouse Tuesday agreed.

HayesCleanAir3“The government needs to clean the air, and they can do that to an extent, partly by emission control,” said Marlene Connor of Avon. “Encourage not idling your car, walking, using public transportation, consolidating travel. There’s a lot individuals can do to help—there’s not one cure-all.

“It costs,” she said, “but what is it going to cost tomorrow? People talk about reducing the taxes and reducing the deficit so children in the future won’t have to pay that, but if they can’t breathe the air and they don’t have water to drink, what difference is a deficit going to make in their lives? They’re not going to survive.”

Many participants in the rally expressed concern, both for themselves and for others.

“I think it’s unhealthy for everyone,” said Logan resident Pat Sadoski. “I take care of hospice patients, and sometimes they can’t even walk to their cars because [the air] is so awful. And who would want to raise their child in this?

“You know, we worry about young people smoking and we go after them,” she said. “We go after people in this state who smoke in their own car with a child in the back, but we don’t care about the rest of us that are breathing the exact equivalent.”

Some residents says they’ll move out of the area if the air problem is not solved.

“We want to keep living here, but if the air doesn’t improve, we’ll move because we have children and we don’t want them to grow up being sick,” said Erin Brewer from Logan. “The attitude [of the council] seems to be, ‘Good. See you. Bye.’

“They seem happy to get rid of people who are wanting to change things for the better,” she said, “and I find that really depressing.”

Brewer said she and her family walk when they can, but they are unable when the air pollution is especially bad.

HayesCleanAir2“When the air gets bad, people have to drive, and then it gets worse,” she said. “Emission tests aren’t going to fix everything—it’s just a little piece. We need to get research going to see what else we can do.”

USU professor and local activist Jean Lown said she came to Tuesday’s rally because she is frustrated with how Cache Valley government officials have handled the air quality problem.

“I am so fed up with our public officials,” she said. “I went to the meeting with the legislators . . . a couple of weeks ago, and the attitude was, ‘You just gotta live with it folks,’” Lown said. “I’ll tell you, at the university, there are a lot of faculty that are looking for other jobs elsewhere. Especially with people with little kids—it’s really freaking them out. It just has been a horrible winter and a lot of public officials are just like, ‘Hey, that’s just the way it’s going to be.’”

Lown, tired of waiting for government action, helped create a contest called “Clean the Air,” with cash prices for the best solutions to help northern Utah battle the air-quality issue.

“You know, the Legislature should put up money for grants, competitive grants, to faculty and graduate students at colleges and universities in Utah to come up with ideas for how to deal with this problem,” Lown said. “There are a lot of great ideas out there. So I said, ‘You know, I’m going to be dead before the Legislature does anything, or gives grant money.’ So I’m like, ‘What they heck? Let’s have a little contest at Utah State.’”

The deadline for “Clean the Air” is March 8.


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