Utah has been busy playing host to two high-profile events this week the Sundance Film Festival and the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Unfortunately, the first glimpse many attendees had of the state's vaunted, pristine landscape was shrouded in smog. Not just a little bit of haze, but grimy, lung-clogging, eye-searing smog.
While the state's economic development boosters will cheerily tally up the positive impacts of the two events in terms of global exposure, we are wondering whether anyone will ask how many film- or outdoor-industry business prospects were turned off by the frightful air quality.
But the fact that Utah's air quality is now making embarrassing national headlines is not the worst of it. Of much greater concern is what the pollutants are doing to year-round residents and why the state has been so slow to respond.
Last year, during his state of the state message, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert mentioned the problem, calling on individual citizens to carpool, use energy efficient appliances and use mass transit. But, in the same speech he decried government regulation and extolled the growth of Utah's oil and gas industry.
Let's be honest, it's hard to get excited about carpooling when you see oil tankers idling all night at the truck stop.
According to the governor, "Responsible development of Utah's energy resources and the protection of Utah's scenic wonders are not mutually exclusive ideas!"
One look at Salt Lake City's skyline this week would seem to disprove that.
In that same speech, Gov. Herbert gushed, "Outdoor recreation, with its $5.8 billion annual economic impact, is fundamental to our culture, our health, our economy and our lifestyle."
But some outdoor-industry leaders whose flights into Salt Lake were delayed due to smog, that might find the governor's enthusiasm a little hard to reconcile with the dirty air that is already spreading across three Northern Utah counties and threatens to affect even more.
Governor Herbert is scheduled to deliver this year's annual report on Thursday. This time we'd like to hear a realistic plan to regulate emissions. And we aren't the only ones. Thousands of local residents are expected to attend a Clean Air Rally, today, Saturday, at noon at the state capital.
To put it bluntly, state legislators, who are scheduled to convene for the first day of the General Session on Monday, have a long way to go to prove they are more interested in their constituents health than the big industries who contribute to their campaigns.