This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As a family doctor in Salt Lake City, I often find myself caring for patients suffering from our poor air quality. From this experience, I have learned the value of examining policy choices through the lens of how they impact public health.
Beginning in 1990, when then-President George H.W. Bush signed the Clean Air Act amendments, the Enviornmental Protection Agency began to rein in the tiny but dangerous airborne pollution particles from man made sources what we popularly call "soot."
Coming from motor vehicles, electric utilities and industrial burning and manufacturing operations, this haze-inducing pollution is both the cause of reduced visibility in our national parks and also the instigator of serious health problems such as respiratory illness, decreased lung function and even premature death.
The EPA's regional haze rule is designed to significantly reduce this pollution.
For the past 15 years, both states and industry have known they'd have to clean up their act and begin adhering to the pollution improvements required by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.
Not only will the EPA's rule clean up the views around the West, including our beloved national parks, and benefit our health by limiting particulate pollution, but the rules are supported by a majority of Utahns.
Utahns, who suffer some of the worst air quality in the nation, recognize the value of these safeguards. Last year's State of the Rockies Report issued by Colorado College asked Utahns if they supported the EPA's efforts "continuing to implement the Clean Air Act by updating the standards for air quality, including for smog, dust, and emissions from power plants, factories and cars." Yes, said 69 percent of Utahns.
Not so our state's main utility. While cleaning up our air and improving our health is overwhelmingly supported by Utahns, the new rule is being fought tooth and nail by Rocky Mountain Power. The utility owns some of the dirtiest coal power plants in the nation but is actively resisting the EPA's efforts via the Clean Air Act to clean those up.
In Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Power has joined with other powerful utilities paying for TV ads and mounting a social media campaign to block the EPA from making them install cutting-edge pollution controls called "selective catalytic reduction." SCR controls are proven to work and are already in place at more than 200 coal plants throughout the country.
If SCR becomes widely used throughout the West, it promises to go a long way toward cleaning up our scenic views and, most important, removing the pollutants sickening our families and contributing to the rising cost of health care.
Utahns have until Aug. 26 to let the EPA know what they think of the proposal to force Rocky Mountain Power to install SCR on eight coal-fired power units in Wyoming. That power ends up lighting and heating our homes, so we have a responsibility to make sure our voice is heard. If you want to weigh in, my friends at the environmental nonprofit HEAL Utah have set up an easy-to-use website at www.truebluesky.org to help you register your comment.
Doctors understand that prevention is the best medicine. Public policy that benefits citizens by preventing pollution-causing respiratory illnesses deserves our support.
Hugo Rodier, M.D., a board-certified family practitioner, is a medical director at the Pioneer Clinic in Draper.