Utah Moms for Clean Air Founder Talks About Air, Activism and Climate

October 1st, 2015

HEAL UTAH chats with Cherise Udell, the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, about how this powerful local group was founded, where she sees the clean air movement today and her exciting plans to attend this winter’s climate summit in Paris (COP21) with a delegation of student journalists.

Click here to listen to this interesting conversation.

Advocates Propose 4 New Air Quality Rules

September 29th, 2015

At the upcoming Air Quality Board meeting on Oct. 7 HEAL Utah, Physicians For a Healthy Environment, and Western Resource Advocates will propose four new air quality rules for the board to consider.

The first rule changes the way industrial pollution permits calculate emissions. Kids need clean air all day everyday. They can’t rely on air that is clean, more or less, based on a monthly average. Yet currently, the state looks at industrial emissions emitted on a weekly, monthly, or even annual basis. This means industry can effectively exploit the law of averages to emit more than allowed in any given 24-hour period. The first proposal demands that industry comply with the 24-hour emissions standards, thus prohibiting short term spikes in pollution, which are especially damaging during inversion periods.

The second rule closes the “offset” loophole. Because we violate federal clean air standards, our total emissions cannot increase, so when big business demands to expand, they can only do so by offsetting the increase with emissions reductions in other places. Industry, has of course found a loophole. The offset rule doesn’t kick in until the proposed increase is quite high. So, by asking for multiple small expansions, industry can pollute more without having to find reductions. This proposed rule would lower the threshhold at which the state requires offsets.

The third proposed rule increases testing frequency. Pollution permits may look acceptable on paper, but it takes real-world data to verify whether or not the equipment is operating within the bounds of the permit. Currently, the DAQ can only do real-world tests every 3 to 5 years! This proposed rule demands that industry have continuous emissions monitoring wherever feasible. We all have continuous pollution monitoring on our cars, so shouldn’t big industry have it too?

The final rule would requires that all documents relevant to a new permit be made at the start of the comment period, and it requires that public comment periods be extended by request. This would give grassroots advocacy groups more information and in some cases more time to comb through applications. This final proposed rule would strengthen and protect a robust public discourse about what goes into the air we breathe.

All who want to breathe clean air are invited to the Air Quality Board meeting at the Department of Environmental Quality office on Oct. 7 at 1:30 pm.
195 N 1950 W. The green Trax stops only about a block away from the offices.

Utah Moms for Clean Air Sending Delegation to COP21 in Paris

August 25th, 2015

As you may know, the next global climate summit – COP21 – is taking place this winter in Paris (Nov 30th – Dec 11). The number one cause of global warning is the burning of fossil fuels – which is also the number one cause of our air pollution in Utah.

Utah Moms for Clean Air has thus decided to heed the call to represent Utah and mothers fighting for a sustainable clean air future for all children. We submitted a proposal a few weeks ago to be one of the presenters in the official civic society space and we hope to also host an international kid event/workshop such as “How To Make Young Voices Heard” and/or have kids write a song with dozens of international languages being included that could – just maybe – be sung at the convention by the kids to remind delegates why they are doing what they are doing and why it is so important that real action is taken fast.

Furthermore, we are exploring the idea of bringing a couple of kids from Utah to be journalists that can skype back to their schools on a daily basis with reports and images from the climate conference. Can you imagine how engaged those schools will be in the events going on in Paris if they have their own correspondent?!

In addition to sharing what we have learned in Utah, we hope to learn from other cities/nations about how they have successfully addressed air pollution in their communities and bring back that inspiration back to Utah.

Three grizzly bear mamas, Tina Escobar-Taft, Ingrid Karoline Griffee and moi have committed to going to Paris, but we want to open up the invitation to other moms and kids. This will be an extraordinary experience! Email us at supermoms at utahmomsforcleanair dot org if you are interested in more information.


Profits for the few, pollution for the rest.

May 22nd, 2015

One time, a couple years ago, a legislator told me that we could have clean air BUT it was expensive and I needed to understand that more money for clean air meant less money for schools.

Today we have legislators using our tax dollars to claim public lands for leasing to more drilling – again, its either that, or apparently we remain last in the nation in public school spending.

I want to be very, very clear – a mother in 21st century Utah should NOT have to choose between clean air and education.

Faced with this so-called choice, parents are supposed to chant along to “drill, baby, drill,” because, well, we want our babies to go to school and learn, baby, learn.
That’s not a choice. That’s a hostage situation – let us pollute, or there’s not enough money for your schools.

The men wining and dining right now in that dirty energy summit have contrived with our state leadership to sell our children’s future – their health, their education, and their cultural heritage – at bargain bin prices.

30 some years ago, the oil and gas industry negotiated a sweetheart tax deal with Utah, and despite all the rhetoric we hear about the energy boom, those preferential tax rates have not changed. A 2012 report by Headwaters Economics, ranks Utah’s effective tax rate on oil and gas at only 3.3% – the lowest among six other energy producing states in our region – and this on an industry, which in 2013 recorded production sales value at more than 4.6 billion dollars. (I took that number off the website for the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.)

For comparison, Wyoming charges 11.4%. Montana charges 10.5%.

This is tens of millions of dollars that dirty energy companies walk away with – while our lawmakers tell us that we can’t even afford to upgrade old, polluting school buses.

Our lax environmental regulations, oil and gas drilling, refinery expansion, polluting semi trucks transporting our non-renewable resources through our cities…. these create profit for a few and pollution for the rest of us. These for-profit polluters must start paying the true cost of doing business.

Because the truth is what we really, really cannot afford is to offer big industries discounts paid for with our children’s future. Our kids deserve clean air, the best education, and beautiful vistas – and if these energy executives want to do business in our state – they ought to pay their fair share.

18 Reasons for a Wood-burning Ban in Urban Areas

March 19th, 2015

Below are 18 reasons why wood burning should be banned in urban areas, from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment:

1. All air pollution is not created equal. Wood smoke is one of the most toxic types of pollution in most cities.

2. Lifetime cancer risk is 12 times greater for wood smoke compared to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke.

3. Burning 10 lbs. of wood for one hour, releases as much PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) as 35,000 packs of cigarettes.

4. Toxic free-radical chemicals in wood smoke are biologically active 40 times longer than the free radicals in cigarette smoke.

5. Wood smoke is the third largest source of dioxins, one of the most intensely toxic compounds known to science.

6. The very small size of wood particles make them seven times more likely to be inhaled than other particulate pollution.

7. Wood smoke easily penetrates homes of neighbors creating concentrations up to 88% as high as outdoor air.

8. If you smell wood smoke, you know you are being harmed. The sweet smell comes from deadly compounds like benzene. Once you can smell the smoke you know the concentration of particulate matter is dangerously high.

9. The most dangerous components of air pollution are much higher inside homes that burn wood than non-burners, as much as 500% higher. The characterization of a wood burning ban “punishing the little people” is easily undermined because a ban would actually benefit the burners themselves more than anyone else, especially their own children.

10. Considering the most dangerous part of particulate pollution, wood burning produces as much overall as all our cars during the winter.

11. We require emissions testing of all our cars. Great. An average house heated with wood emits about as much winter time pollution as driving 90 cars all winter, but we don’t emissions test wood stoves. Why not?

12. The inhalable particulate pollution from one woodstove is equivalent to the amount emitted from 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat.

13. Emissions from modern combustion appliances for wood logs may increase ten-fold if they are not operated appropriately, and most of them are not.

14. Wood smoke is the only pollution emitted right where people spend most of their time. It disperses poorly, is not evenly distributed and stays in the air longer because of its small size. Concentrations can be 100 times higher for neighbors of wood burners than what is captured at the nearest monitoring station. Real local “pollution victims” are created even when overall community levels are low.

15. If your neighbor is a regular wood burner, and follows all the rules, i.e. doesn’t burn during yellow or red alert days, but does during all “green” days, you can go an entire winter without having one single day of clean air.

16. According to California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District, burning wood costs the rest of the community, primarily your next door neighbors, at least $2 in extra medical expenses for every lb of wood that you burn. An average fire then costs your neighbors about $40.

17. Long ago most communities passed ordinances protecting people from second hand cigarette smoke. Ironically those laws protect people at places they don’t necessarily have to be (restaurants, stores, buildings, etc). But in the one place they have to be, their home, they have no protection from smoke. People should have just as much protection from wood smoke as from cigarette smoke and for all the same reasons. We don’t allow people to blow cigarette smoke in your face, why should we allow people to blow wood smoke into your home?

18. Wood burning is not even close to carbon neutral over the short term, the next few decades, and it is that time frame that will make or break the climate crisis. Burning wood is extremely in inefficient. Per unit of heat created wood produces even more CO2 than the fossil fuels do.

Cauldron of Pollution

February 16th, 2015

by Tara Maher

I. perched above the cauldron of pollution
clouds appear and disperse
valley smog obscures clarity like a blindfold over prisoner’s eyes
a child coughs
a mother adjusts her mask: frightening, pragmatic, clinically ethereal
people drive in circles to get money so they can drive in circles
refineries humming smoothly, methodically
like a maniacal clock marking the steps of a death march
the orange flame a phoenix rhythmically undulating
smoke does not rise, but settles in an apocalyptic vision
humans can live weeks without food
days without water
minutes without air

II. wind blows, the mask unveiled
we see our mountains, our shopping malls, our churches, our factories, ourselves
yet we forget that moments before we gasped for breath
gasped for life
and we turn the ignition again and again

III. city of duality, paradox, division, hypocrisy, denial
city of snow, mountains, architectural treasures, gardens
city that is like all cities: run by greed and misdirected brilliance
the riddle is answered within
ashes cease to rein when we reclaim our sky

Air Pollution and Pregnancy in Utah

February 4th, 2015

Below is a recent – and disturbing – letter published in the Salt Lake Tribune. To learn more about air pollution and pregnancy do not miss the UPHE presentation on the subject this Thursday night (7pm, Downtown SLC Library).

The air pollution problem in Utah needs to be addressed, and soon. We had three babies in Oregon before moving here to Utah, where we lost three babies in miscarriages before discovering the group Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment.

We did our research, and this last year, when I was pregnant again and the inversion arrived, we sealed our house, bought powerful NASA air purifiers, and became hermits. Now we have a beautiful, healthy 2-month-old who made it through.

It is a terrible tragedy to us that the only thing that changed was the air quality. Every single baby deserves fresh air to grow and thrive; no parent should lose a precious little one because of Utah’s “business climate” and permissiveness toward big polluters. It’s not the cars; where we lived in Oregon they did not even do emissions testing.

Sara Frye
Saratoga Springs

Smoggy Day Recess?

January 24th, 2015

Op-ed in the Deseret News
By Ingrid Griffee

This story starts at my daughter’s school. As they should, the school last week was asking children with asthma to stay indoors, and they kindly asked if other children wished to voluntarily stay in, either for their own health or to keep the others company. With so many other forces a mom has to battle (bullying, stranger-danger, drugs, etc.), we now also worry over the very air the kids breathe during something as simple as recess. Remember “rainy day” recess? We now have “smoggy day” recess.

So last week my 10-year-old asked me to buy a face mask for her to wear so she could play outside. I watched in dismay as another layer of innocence fell away from her. She could see the smog hanging in the air, and even though she doesn’t understand the pathology behind air pollution, she knows that you shouldn’t be able to see the air you breathe. She also noted that it smelled especially bad outside.

The message Utah kids receive is clear: The very air around you is toxic, and some of the adults running the show find it simpler and less expensive to keep you indoors at recess, rather than clean the air.

The message Utah kids receive is clear: The very air around you is toxic, and some of the adults running the show find it simpler and less expensive to keep you indoors at recess, rather than clean the air.

Take, for example, the fact that current Utah law prohibits us from creating any clean air regulations stricter than federal EPA regulations. Even though the EPA never tested any of the regulations in our valley, we just have to accept whatever they pass on and hope it works for us. Now, to be fair, when the Legislature put this bit of code into our law, they gave us an out. If we can show that federal regulations are not adequate to protect our health, we can make better regulations. The burden of proof is on our families to demonstrate inadequacy. How do we show that something is inadequate to protect our health? We all get sick, and then we argue over which specific regulation was inadequate. This approach is unwise, dangerous and costly.

Public health policy should never place the burden of proof on the people. Do we all have to get ill drinking dirty water before we decide to treat it for diseases? What if your doctor said, “Take this medicine. It’s unclear if it will help or hurt you, we haven’t tested it on people in your situation. I guess if you get sicker, then we’ll know.” Of course you wouldn’t take it. You expect that medicines and treatments are vigorously tested under different circumstances by impartial scientific institutions, and that doctors use the best science to extrapolate how to use a medicine. Regulations are in place to protect us, not make us guinea pigs.

This legislative session, clean air advocates and citizens mean to change this dangerous bit of Utah law, thereby returning to the local population the power to craft air quality regulations specific to the needs of our region. Any potential new air quality regulations would still go through the same robust public comment period and through the same air quality board. New ideas would still have to be backed by science, but we would have the freedom to apply science from our own region, not just science done by the EPA as a one-size fits all regulation.

On Jan. 31, my daughter and I will be at the state Capitol at noon to rally with thousands of others. We will demonstrate to the Legislature that clean air is important — because I’m a mom and no child should ever have to miss playing jump rope because of a “smoggy day” recess.

On Jan. 31, my daughter and I will be at the state Capitol at noon to rally with thousands of others. We will demonstrate to the Legislature that clean air is important — because I’m a mom and no child should ever have to miss playing jump rope because of a “smoggy day” recess.

Ingrid Griffee is the executive director of Utah Moms for Clean Air. She and her husband are raising four kids in Salt Lake City.

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