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Utahns sacrifice, but not big polluters

Published October 6, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Unless you had your eyes shut and held your breath for much of the past month, you probably noticed that Salt Lake had a "touch of the air pollution," exacerbated by regional wildfires. If you had taken your blood pressure, it likely would have been higher than usual. Mine was.

It's one of many side effects of breathing pollution. Even small elevations in blood pressure have long-term health consequences, so you may not want to read the rest of this column.

The Utah Division of Air Quality is developing a long list of initiatives to avoid costly federal sanctions for pollution violations. That list even includes reducing emissions from Ma and Pa restaurants and phasing out residential pilot-lighted water heaters.

The little people, you and I, will be sacrificing to improve air quality. Rightly so. But the largest polluters, Rio Tinto/Kennecott and the oil refineries, won't be joining us in sacrifice. The DAQ continues giving them permission to expand and make things worse.

At first glance you might think more copper and oil is a good thing, but more pollution is definitely not. So, a fair reconciliation of these conflicting objectives might be regulatory constraints requiring both industries to adhere to the highest pollution standards possible.

Sorry to shatter your fairness bubble, but need I remind you that you live in a different bubble: Utah?

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment was contacted by a whistle-blower refinery engineer, who requests to remain anonymous, with information that the Tesoro refinery expansion would not meet that standard.

Simply put, there are two different regulatory templates that Tesoro could have been required to conform to. Both would allow the same increase in production but are much different in how much pollution control would be required. UPHE submitted highly technical, expert testimony that Tesoro's application used the template that was the cheapest for them, but emitted the most pollution and would violate the Clean Air Act.

Meanwhile, another inside source approached UPHE with this information: Tesoro was so confident that it would get its "cheaper" permit rubber-stamped by July that the company actually paid to have a 60-person construction crew from Texas on site and ready to go in early August.

Well, the permit didn't come on time and Tesoro was spending over seven figures to leave the crew on standby. Tesoro didn't appreciate losing big money so their vice presidents flew up from Texas for a large meeting with the DAQ and pressed them hard about why the permit had not yet been issued.

The DAQ officials replied that they were being extra careful in structuring the permit because of fear that UPHE would challenge it in court. At least they got that part right.

The Tesoro permit was finally issued on Sept. 13, six weeks late. As usual, it's another blank check to industry to do what it wants. And no, it does not require the pollution controls it should have. The DAQ/Tesoro claim that it won't increase our pollution much is a self-serving distortion of the data.

The Associated Press reported, and internal EPA memos confirm, that nationwide the actual pollution from refineries is between three and 100 times greater than what is claimed by the refineries. Tesoro's expansion permit from the DAQ ignores and aggravates this outrage.

Disgust among the local residents is mounting. Two former refinery managers have since contacted UPHE with more offers to help stop the expansions. Two weeks ago, Senate President Michael Waddoups publicly excoriated the Department of Environmental Quality for what he saw as an illicit relationship with EnergySolutions. No one saw that coming.

If Waddoups would also scrutinize the DAQ's relationship with industrial polluters, he would again become "possessed." If he examined the Legislature's role in this, he would see that sacrificing the environment and public health to industry is the exact outcome his fellow legislators intended.

And if he feels his blood pressure rising, it may be what he's seeing, and also what he's breathing.

Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and member of Union of Concerned Scientists.






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