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Utah clean air rally – what did we learn

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Key Points.

  • Utah Moms’ for Clean air has the potential to be extremely effective if sticks to its core mission.
  • Utah Moms’ may have made a serious tactical error by embracing the Physician’s for a Healthy Environment petition.
  • Rallies can be tainted by just a few people and Facebook is not the place to air differences.
  • Plans to relocate the prison could be disrupted by the clean air movement.
  • Business will push back hard when its plans are impacted by clean air proponents.
  • Business and clean air advocates will find some areas of agreement as business tries to co-opt or buy off its opponents.

On January 25, thousands drove, bused, bicycled and walked to the Utah State capitol to call for action on cleaning up Utah’s air.

The following are random observations based on the speeches given and interviews with those attending the rally.

Utah Moms for Clean Air has the potential to be the most effective of the various groups in encouraging legislators to pass clean air bills as long as they keep the focus on child health and avoid making unfounded or unrealistic demands that their opponents can turn against them.

Developers, the powerful Salt Lake Chamber, and lobbyists for heavy industries impacted by the Moms’ demands will be hard pressed to counteract large numbers of mothers and their children if they show up at the legislature in force. The main threat to the Moms are the non-Moms who they align themselves with and who present a more radical agenda and a decidedly less sympathetic face.

Utah Moms for Clean Air may already have made a serious tactical error by embracing the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment’s petition that is on the self-described progressive, MoveOn.org website.

The petition has a series of demands that open the way for their opponents to portray them as left-leaning, progressives whose real goal is to stop all economic growth rather than finding a solution to air pollution.

Demands in the petition include:

  • a ten year moratorium on freeway construction,
  • a ten year moratorium on the construction of any fossil fuel power plants.
  • a ten year moratorium on any heavy industrial sources of pollution including expansions of Kennecott, oil refineries, cement plants.
  • a mandate for maximum pollution control technology on existing plants within two years.
  • an open end to open air burning by agriculture, Hill Air Force Base and ATK,
  • phasing out the Geneva gravel pit at the point of the mountain.
  • the end to all tar sand and oil shale permitting.
  • Authority for state and local governments to implement more stringent air quality rules than those imposed by the federal government.

Rallies allow a few individuals to taint an entire cause. As the Tea Party learned, a handful of people with controversial signs will be seized on by the opponents of a movement in order to discredit it.

The clean air rally Moms had to be concerned when a large sign reading “Birth Control Prevents Pollution” was placed directly in front of the speaker’s podium because it took away from the core message of protecting children and it could be used to link the Moms to abortion and other birth control methods or groups.

Facebook is not the place to discuss differences. A controversy arose when a spokesperson for Peaceful Uprising took the microphone and used decidedly leftist rhetoric (They’re killing first nation people. We need to work with people of color and low incomes to stop tar sand development. There is environmental racism. We demand racial and economic justice, etc.).

Peaceful Uprising bemoaned the poor treatment it received from rally organizers on its Facebook page and Moms’ Cherise Udell responded. Thus, rather than handling the disagreement privately, they put it on line for the world to follow.

Plans to relocated the prison, which is driven by major developers who will make millions, could be disrupted if the clean air groups demand that priority be given to relocating the refineries and that the prison be left where it is.

In fact, a commonly voiced demand of those attending the Saturday rally was that refineries had to be relocated before any action is taken to move the much less polluting prison. Concern was also expressed that moving the prison may actually result in more air pollution if the land is used for a major commercial development that draws still more cars into the area.

Push back will come from business in the form of a well-funded campaign to counteract and discredit the clean air movement if the pressure becomes too great. The powerful Salt lake Chamber and its allies will reinforce their already strong influence over elected officials, the bureaucracy and appointed boards that administer clean air regulations.

Business and clean air advocates will find some areas of agreement as business tries to co-opt or buy off its opponents. Business will support a local option sales tax increases to fund mass transit since the business community has managed to exempt itself from most sales taxes. Therefore, the incidence of the sales tax increase will fall fully on private citizens and the poorest of the poor will be hit the hardest.

Clean air advocates may go along with business in order to get more bus lines. They may also forego some of their other demands in return for token positions on boards and study committees.

Still other demands will result in strong push back from Utah’s powerful real estate and business community as well as from organized labor that will lose construction jobs. These demands include (1) reprogramming the money from the Davis Corridor highway construction to mass transit and (2) withdrawing permits for refinery expansion.

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