Outdoor industry leaders and athletes petition to curb Utah coal emissions

Image by: Matt Law/Black Diamond

From the Standard Examiner: One day after the Governor held a meeting on air quality and growing the energy industry in Utah, the outdoors industry came forward with a petition to curb state coal emissions.

The Governor’s Office of Energy Development moderated a symposium Tuesday exploring ways to improve Utah’s air quality while boosting the energy industry. Much of discussion focused on perceived economic barriers from federal rules, like more restrictive ozone pollution standards and a plan for reduced emissions from power plants.

But a coalition including outdoor business leaders, athletes, park advocates and environmental groups gathered 30,000 signatures for a petition asking for stronger restrictions on coal power plant pollution.

The coalition is particularly concerned about visibility issues at Utah’s famous national parks.

“Utahns deserve the same protections from damaging coal pollution that other states afford to their residents,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO of outdoor equipment brand Black Diamond, in a statement. “Protecting our national parks is about protecting our economy and the communities that depend on them.”

The Sierra Club calls Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks “economic engines” in the state. In 2013, national park visitors spent $596.5 million and supported 9,069 jobs in the state. The outdoor industry brings $3.6 billion in local earnings and $856 million in state and local taxes, according to a 2011 and 2012 survey by the Outdoor Industry Association.

The oil and gas industry, by comparison, created more than 10,500 jobs, $486 million in earnings and $5.2 million in local tax revenue, according to a 2009 University of Utah report. A 2010 study from the university estimated coal-powered electricity generation creates 8,000 Utah Jobs and around $350 million in revenue.

But the outdoor coalition said the importance of strict coal regulations goes beyond economics. The issue is also a matter of public health.

“As a professional athlete, I rely on my health, a healthy environment and a stable tourism economy to provide a platform for my livelihood,” said professional freestyle skier Angel Collinson in a statement. “I’ve always been proud to call Utah my home, but as the years pass I’ve seen the air pollution threaten not only our Utah communities and national parks, but those in surrounding states.”

The coalition asks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require stricter pollution controls at the Hunter and Huntington power plants in Emery County. The letter says the plants cause 40 percent of all nitrogen oxide emissions from Utah’s electric sector, although the Utah Department of Air Quality disputes those claims.

The EPA’s Regional Haze Program requires states work with federal agencies to improve air quality at national parks and wilderness areas. The state of Utah regularly monitors air quality in the vicinity of national parks.

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