Earth Day event in Utah features successes, failures, hopes

Environment • Utah activists call for clean air, clean energy and clean future.
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Activists feted Earth Day with a part-celebration, part-protest outside the Utah Governor's Mansion.

"People want clean air, clean energy, a clean future," said the Sierra Club's Tim Wagner, standing before a banner festooned with blue ribbons bearing messages for Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders.

"That's what people want. That's what people are demanding."

The daylong event organized by the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter and Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment was one of dozens honoring the 44th Earth Day. Another event was the Salt Lake County Health Department's Earth Day Festival, where grade-schoolers learned about solar-powered ovens, recycling and other environmentally friendly practices.

At the protest, speakers at a morning news conference mentioned a range of environmental issues, from advocating clean-car regulations to protecting wildlife habitat, relocating Refinery Row, mining fossil fuels and dealing with the effects of a changing climate on the water supply in the nation's second-driest state.

"We know exactly what to do," said Matt Pacenza, of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL).

He pointed to new clean-vehicle standards proposed last month by the Obama administration that will cut tailpipe pollution dramatically, including 80 percent of nitrogen oxides and 70 percent of the fine-particle pollution blamed for northern Utah's winter smog problem. Pacenza called on Herbert to endorse the new standards.

Kirk Robinson, of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, said fragmentation of habitat threatens species that need to move because of the ecological shifts brought about by climate change. If steps aren't taken to protect habitat networks, he said, "our whole world will become impoverished as a result."

Cecily Price-Huish, who lives near Refinery Row in Davis County, criticized state leaders for allowing refineries to expand when they already pollute so much.

"I'm here today to ask our governor and our administrative bodies to be more responsive," she said.

"If they are thinking about moving some large body, some large entity, maybe they ought to think about moving the refineries in the name of public health instead of moving our prison to benefit a few real estate developers."

Twitter: @judyfutah