Tom Clyde: The limits of science
March 14, 2014
My dog’s nose has turned pink. When he first arrived at my house four years ago, his nose was black. For all that time, his nose has been black. And then last week, it was tan, and this week it is pink. I thought maybe it was all abraded from rooting around in the crusty snow, or his constant chewing on the other dog. But it’s not tender or raw. His perfectly healthy nose is just pink.
So I did the only reasonable thing and consulted Google, asking, "why has my dog’s nose turned pink?" And there were hundreds, maybe thousands of entries there that all kind of said the same thing. Darned if we know. The condition is called "snow nose," and is quite common in light-haired dogs like yellow labs and golden retrievers. Stumpy is a golden. According to the Google sources, which must surely be right or else they wouldn’t be on the Internet, golden retrievers’ noses will sometimes turn pink in the winter, and then turn back to black in the summer. Or not. Sometimes they stay pink.
The sources were uniform in confessing that they had no clue why this happens, it just does. It does not appear to be connected to the zombie apocalypse. If anything, it may be a sign that he’s had enough of winter and is ready to get back to chasing squirrels. But there’s your scientific oddity for the week—snow nose.
Investigating the pigmentation of my dog’s nose is more interesting than watching the state legislature in action, and probably more productive. They wrap up their session this week. There is always a flurry of activity in the final few minutes, when they all vote on a bunch of stuff nobody has read, and inevitably somebody will have slipped something really odious into an innocuous bill naming a state rodent. The common reaction to the work of the legislature is a celebration that they didn’t do much serious harm. People who expect that they might actually do something beneficial are delusional.
The big issue this year was the toxic air on the Wasatch Front. Although the smog layer mostly lifted by the time the session was underway, if we all try to remember all the way back to, say, February, the air in Salt Lake was so thick and toxic that people were demanding action. The action they got was that spring came, the snow melted, and the inversion lifted.
A slightly more scientific approach than slow-motion poisoning, was an amendment to the state’s environmental quality legislation. Under current law, the Department of Environmental Quality is prohibited from imposing any state-level regulations that are more stringent than the federal regulations. Anybody gagging on the murk could see that the federal regulations are not getting the job done on the Wasatch Front. The federal regulations do not deal with the unique geographic conditions that exist in relatively high-altitude valleys.
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So Rep. Becky Edwards, whose North Salt Lake district includes the oil refineries that are significant contributors to the smog, proposed a bill to change that. It would allow the state to adopt potentially more-stringent regulations that were specific to conditions on the ground here. This didn’t propose anything new, it just removed a prohibition on the DEQ trying something new. This anti-business-commie-pinko-enviro-Nazi is a Republican. It wasn’t a home run, but it would have made it legal for the DEQ to at least take a swing at the problem.
But even that was a bridge too far. Another member of the legislature amended the bill in committee to say that they could only adopt tighter regulations if there were "evidence-based" reasons. Apparently they didn’t want any faith-based regulations of tailpipe emissions, even though faith-based legislation is common around here (witness the Zion Curtain law that presumes, without evidence, that kids will become alcoholics if they witness a lime being squeezed into a G&T). We can’t have our scientists making stuff up, like crazy theories about fine particulate matter wrecking our lungs.
Getting control of Utah’s rotten air will take some unpopular actions. Industries may need to shut down on the "red alert" days. Cleaner gas will cost more. We might have to adopt tighter emissions standards on cars, limit driving on those days, totally ban wood burning, and require smog controls on the grill hoods at hundreds of restaurants. Los Angeles has made a huge difference in their air quality, but not without making some changes.
We could get serious about action to improve the air quality, and let the state’s scientific experts develop programs that address the unique circumstances here. Or, our representatives could choke the bill that would authorize resorting to science, because, you know, the sun was shining today so there’s obviously no problem.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.