lt. Gov. Bell blasts emotion-driven environmental proposals

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said Thursday he really doesn’t care how Utahns “feel” about environmental threats or state policies.

“I’m not here to take opinion polls, and I’m not here to deal with your feelings,” Bell told his audience, gathered at Weber State University for a talk, “Let’s Clean the Air.”

“I’m here to deal with realities,” said Bell, an Ogden native and Weber State graduate. “You’ve got to deal with facts and science. You just have to.”

Bell told the story of a worried mother who came to him because she opposed common core school standards, but who had no data or other evidence to support her uneasy feeling.

“The biggest danger in public life is the simple mind that comes to complex issues with simple solutions. It’s a small mind that can’t be changed,” he said.

Bell said comments he sees on news stories and social media show that posters’ minds are clearly closed.

“They think everyone is an idiot who doesn’t agree with them. It’s not that people are uninformed, or people are illogical. It’s they’re stupid, idiotic, or they’re Mormons, or they’re not Mormons, or they cheer for BYU or whatever,” he said.

“There’s this counter-intellectual argument, that really is ad hominem, it’s illogical, it’s unacceptable. Educated people just really should not engage in this kind of discourse. You shouldn’t even read this stuff.”

Bell’s father, who served on a local school board for years, advised his son to never read an unsigned letter, he said.

“If someone won’t step up and give you their opinion, and not just their opinion but their rationale, they’re not worth listening to. Because if we’re just talking about feelings …”

Bell, who resigned as lieutenant governor last month but will remain in his job until a replacement can be found, then turned over the talk to Alan Matheson, senior environmental adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert.

Matheson told listeners, who nearly filled Ballroom C at WSU’s Shepherd Union Building, that improving Utah’s air quality will take a good understanding of teamwork, available tools, communication and trust.

Last winter, he said, one group of environmental activists came up with five clean-air strategies, then demanded the governor declare a state of emergency and implement each one.

“This is well-meaning people, really trying to make a difference, frustrated as we all are,” Matheson said. “The problem was, one, we don’t have the legal authority to do what they asked for, and two, we looked at those five strategies, and if implemented, they would have made our air quality worse.”

A majority of audience members raised their hands when Matheson asked who thought air quality was worse now than in recent decades. He then told his listeners that Utah’s air quality is actually better, largely because of the cleaner-running cars being produced today.

Hybrid cars of the future will cut pollution even further, he said.

Utah meets federal air standards 95 percent of the time, he said, which makes it one of the cleaner metro areas in the country.

Matheson said some strategies proposed in the past were later abandoned. Lowering the speed limit was one, when cleaner-running cars changed the dynamic.

Matheson showed a PowerPoint presentation detailing the years in which residents and industries would need to meet a higher nonpolluting standard.

But the public also resists regulations. Matheson noted one comment he heard, asking why the government should regulate the variety of hairspray a woman uses.

Aerosol cans that do less harm to the environment are already in use in California, Matheson said, and could easily be used in Utah as part of a larger effort to safeguard the environment.

Bell and Matheson talked about a survey that indicated Utahns were willing to live in urban centers, lessening their commutes to work, shopping and entertainment. Matheson showed a map of suggested urban centers along the Wasatch Front.

Increased use of public transportation is another strategy for reducing emissions and increasing air quality, but it’s a strategy Utahns continue to resist, Matheson said.

Before the process is over, Bell said, there will be no “sacred cows” that will be protected as they pollute.

Matheson said many changes will come in the next decade or two.

“The process is just beginning.”

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

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