Guest Editorial | ParkRecord.com

Guest Editorial

Kathy Lofft, Park City

"In the last few decades entire new categories of waste have come to plague and menace the American scene. Pollution destroys beauty and menaces health. It cuts down on efficiency, reduces property values and raises taxes." President Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the U.S. Congress, February 8, 1965.

The newest type of waste to "plague and menace" our country? It’s called "petroleum coke" (or "pet coke") and it may be coming to Utah. If it does, it will quite likely have an adverse impact on the quality of the air in Summit County.

An out-of-state company, Consolidated Energy, is proposing to build a 109-megawatt cogeneration plant in West Bountiful, just north of Salt Lake City off Interstate 15. The plant would burn not only fuel oil generated by the nearby Holly Refinery but also pet coke derived from an "off-site" source, most likely in Montana or Wyoming.

Pet coke is a waste product from oil refining. Burning pet coke is widely thought to present more environmental problems than burning coal. Pet coke contains more toxic heavy metals (including nickel and vanadium) and emits more sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen than coal.

Burning pet coke generates high quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and produces about 50 percent more ash than burning coal. Pet coke is extremely dirty and must be transported and stored with care to contain its heavy, sooty black dust. The ash that results from burning pet coke must be disposed of properly so it does not leach toxins into the soil and groundwater.

The state Division of Air Quality (DAQ) appears poised to issue a permit for this new plant. This despite the fact that DAQ has only modeled emissions of certain pollutants by the plant, but not others, including so-called "fine particulate" matter (or PM2.5) or carbon dioxide. DAQ has not investigated how the pet coke would be transported to the facility and it’s not clear how the toxic ash generated by the plant would be disposed of.

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Why should anyone in Park City or Summit County be concerned about this? Doesn’t the Wasatch mountain range protect us?

DAQ has indicated that the chemical makeup of the air pollution measured last year in western Summit County is similar to the chemical makeup of the air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley. Given that Summit County does not have the heavy industry common to the Salt Lake Valley, the only plausible explanation for this is that pollution from the valley is making its way here.

This past weekend, my husband and I observed that the dirty, yellowed inversion that blankets the Salt Lake Valley during extended periods of high pressure had crept up Parley’s Canyon to within a bare half-mile of the summit. The inversion, if it hasn’t already reached us, is on its way. When it gets here in force, it will change the landscape. We are not an island; we cannot assume if we ever did that we are comfortably removed from the threats that plague the rest of the state.

The health effects of air pollution are well documented and include an increased incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses as well as childhood cancers (including leukemia), SIDS, low-birth-weight syndrome, premature birth and infant mortality. Scientists tell us there may be no "safe" level of exposure for many of these pollutants across populations. We are already exposed to many of these effects, whether we realize it or not.

Dirty air presents a threat to key industries in Summit County, including tourism, outdoor recreation and agriculture. The black sooty ash that is a by-product of pet coke burning could have a dramatic effect on our snowpack, which could eviscerate our ski industry. If Utah and Summit County develop a reputation for polluted air, it could reduce our economic competitiveness and make the area less attractive for residents and visitors alike. This could ultimately result in declining property values and lower tax revenues.

The residents of Davis County are challenging this threat to their community’s health and well-being. We must stand together with them and register our own protest to this proposed pet coke plant, which poses not only a local, but a regional, menace.

What can you do? While DAQ is no longer accepting comments on Consolidated Energy’s proposal, Governor Huntsman and West Bountiful Mayor James Behunin may have the ability to put an end to this project. They need to hear from you!

Contact Governor Huntsman at: E-mail: http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_comment.html , Telephone: (801) 538-1000)

Contact Mayor Behunin at: E-mail: jbehunin@gmail.com , Telephone: (801) 560-3944)

Ask them to say NO to the Consolidated Energy pet coke plant not only for Utah’s benefit, but for all of the residents and for the future of Park City and Summit County.

Kathy Lofft is the cofounder and co-chair of the Park City chapter of Utah Moms for Clean Air.