Most people who watch the state legislature agree that this year’s session was “Utah’s Clean Air Moment.” Everybody seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time– the air was bad, and something should be done about it.
So in 2014, our elected representatives addressed a “record number of proposals designed to improve our air.” Studies were done. A caucus was formed. Appropriations were made. Over 20 bills were introduced. Some actually passed.
One of the contributing factors to the increased awareness of our air quality problems was Provo’s first place rating in a national contest for bad air. Our city won that dubious honor twice last winter. Worse than LA. Worse than Detroit. Twice.
So what is Provo doing about its pollution problem?
Not everybody knows that Provo, along with other Utah municipalities, own their own electric utility. Provo is part of a coalition of cities that comprise UMPA– the Utah Municipal Power Association. UMPA buys power from the grid and provides it to its member cities — very cheaply. UMPA also sells power on the grid, because it also produces its own power. The agency owns and operates two coal-burning power plants in rural Utah.
What is Provo doing about its pollution problem? Burning coal that provides cheap electricity in plants several hundred miles away, where the fumes won’t bother us.
UMPA’s mission statement expresses its goal to provide cheap and reliable power to its users. (There is no mention of “clean” energy.) Provo is the chief player in UMPA, and has strong ties to the agency. UMPA’s new director is Kevin Garlick, who left Provo City Power to take over as UMPA COO. Mayor John Curtis is vice-chair of UMPA’s board. Provo pays millions into UMPA’s budget. In other words, if Provo wanted to, it could make a difference in UMPA’s decisions and plans.
What are UMPA’s plans? Last year, UMPA created an IRP — Integrated Resource Plan — detailing the agency’s proposed projects for the next 15 years. The IRP calls for improvements to the two coal-fueled power plants. They have to improve the plants– the federal EPA standards require it. The IRP was posted online for public review. Almost no one from the public commented. Maybe no one read it.
It didn’t really matter, because UMPA , the execs and and the board, were taking measures into its own hands. They went to Washington DC, to meet with the Utah Congressional delegation. According to an UMPA exec (who spoke at a Provo Council Work Session last week) they presented a “united front” about what they wanted from their congressmen.
And guess what they wanted? For our elected officials in Washington to fight EPA Clean Air standards. So at the same time that our state legislators are trying to increase air quality standards, our power company reps are working to decrease them.
And Mayor Curtis? Well, he started a clean air campaign of his own. He invited Provo citizens to sign a pledge to try harder, and if they signed, they got a pin. And maybe a photo with the Mayor!
The residents of Provo, of all of Utah for that matter, need to wake up to what their elected, and appointed officials are actually doing. They need to start following the agencies and the men who are making the decisions. Because until Utah actually gets that what we burn for power effects the air we breathe, we will continue to have poisonous air.