This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The children in my family are infatuated with feel good fantasy, imaginary characters and the suspension of reality. They love Disneyland. As such, they are well suited to make Utah's public policy.
If you asked everyone who lives in Utah if they would like to see the Wasatch Front turn into "Cars Land" more freeways, urban sprawl, big box suburban shopping centers, car dependency and more air pollution you might approach 100 percent responding, "No!"
But UDOT lives in its own bubble where temporary relief of rush-hour traffic congestion is the only social value. Having dismissed smart growth alternatives, UDOT plans to force feed us more freeways like the West Davis Corridor (WDC).
Long-term studies confirm that more freeways like the WDC only enable more vehicle traffic, create more congestion and more air pollution. Los Angeles became the air pollution capital of the U.S. because it became the freeway capital of the U.S.
A growing number of cities acknowledging that reality are actually tearing down freeways: Seoul, Portland, San Francisco, New Haven, Providence, Seattle, Baltimore, Milwaukee and New Orleans. Some have shown reduced traffic congestion as just one of many community benefits.
The governor urges voluntary reduction in driving as the key to improved air quality. Yet he has planted UDOT in the drivers seat of our urban planning, and $650 million will be spent on a new freeway that mocks and undermines his own strategy.
This week, the governor will hold his "energy summit." Every year, as if for Cinderella's ball, he dresses up the ugly stepsisters of dirty energy in a vain attempt to wed them to Utah's future. No acknowledgment of the climate crisis, virtually no mention of air pollution, of environmental destruction, of the folly of rural economies teetering on boom and bust oil prices or of squandering and contaminating our dwindling water resources. It's a platform for a few chosen businesses to make money, and all other realities are blissfully ignored.
The Legislature is also stumbling around in their own "Fantasyland," where the solution to long-term drought is not water conservation or limits to growth but to dam the Bear River on behalf of real estate developers wanting to bring more and more people to the Wasatch Front. More Great Salt Lake dry beach will be exposed, expanding the toxic dust every time the wind blows.
The New York Times just published a piece showing that expert opinion is moving toward the reality that Lake Powell may be causing a loss of as much as 280 billion gallons a year of Colorado River water. There is growing recognition that Glen Canyon Dam probably needs to be decommissioned for multiple reasons, but chief among them is the incredible loss of water. But in the "Goofy," upside-down world of our Legislature, now would be a perfect time to spend a few billion dollars building a giant straw to suck more water out of a shrinking Lake Powell that may not even exist when the pipeline is finished.
Taking a cue from Disney's Haunted Mansion, the governor and the Legislature have hatched a plot to resuscitate the ghost of Big Coal, stuffing $53 million of your dollars into the pockets of a Kentucky company so they can build a deep water port that California doesn't want in Oakland so they can send Asian countries coal that they don't want.
And of course the Legislature, governor and our Mickey Mouse congressional delegation are all holding hands on a hilarious amusement park ride where the state steals millions of acres of federal land within Utah's borders, currently owned by all Americans, to build a "Tomorrowland" no one will want to visit because, "Hey, we're Utah, and you're just the rest of the country."
Of course, under the guise of finding a pot of gold for our starving public schools, the real purpose of the scheme is to sell the resources to extraction industries, because they still consider Utah a 19th century "Frontierland."
Disneyland is great entertainment for children. But grownups know that Peter Pan can't fly, the climate crisis is real and that public policy suspended in make-believe threatens all of us.
Indeed, "It's A Small World After All." Utah is part of that world, and our collective future depends on our facing that reality.
Dr. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.