They packed the train stations, rode busses from miles away. They rode bikes and pushed strollers up Capitol Hill. They came from all walks of life—doctors and dads, hipsters and grandmothers, and the skiers and snowboarders who spend their days in the clean air above Salt Lake City’s inversion, but most of whom have to descend back into it every night to get home. Some 5,000 people marched on the Utah State Capitol on last Saturday, January 25. It was the largest air pollution protest in Utah, and by some reports, the largest in American history. Standing next to the advocacy groups including Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), the Sierra Club, and Clean Air Utah, were a loose confederation of professional skiers, snowboarders, climbers, and mountain bikers who love living and training near the Wasatch Range, but hate descending into a brown cloud of pollution during Utah’s inversion cycles.

“[The turnout] was obviously amazing. It was way beyond our expectations, or at least mine,” says Amanda Batty, a professional mountain biker and passionate skier who helped found the group Athletes for Clean Air, a non-profit group fighting for clean air in Utah. “Even cooler than the total turnout was the amount of people who chose alternative transportation to get to the rally.”

Northern Utah cities consistently rank as the most toxic in North America for air quality. During high pressure days, especially in the winter, pollutants from the roughly 2 million people living along the Wasatch Front get trapped in the valley, and build until the next storm front. UPHE estimates that between 1-2,000 people each year die prematurely because of the air quality in Utah.

Athletes for Clean Air is currently a small voice in the chorus for change. For now, the group is only comprised of outdoor sports athletes, but Batty sees that expanding soon. “We’ve reached out to a few different athletes from various organizations, and have gotten quite a response,” she says. “The response level from athletes from all sports disciplines has been absolutely amazing, and it’s really reaffirming that what we’re doing matters.”

Add a comment

  • Bode

    and then went back home to their fossil fuel heated homes and drove their cars to work, school, grocery store. Are they protesting their own use of fossil fuels or the topography of the Salt Lake basin? What a bunch of d-bags.

    • Ben

      The consumer level consumption of fossil fuels in the valley is not the main issue. Travel either north or south to the refineries and you will see the source of the problem. So maybe you should stop being a d-bag yourself.

      • DS

        The refineries do make an easy target, don’t they? The cold hard reality is that they are not major contributers. Review the data. If only the average valley resident had a clue about the petroleum refining. If not for local refining, SLC would probably hold title to the most expensive fuel costs in the nation. And guess what? A huge percentage of that fuel would arrive via 18-wheeler tanker transport. You don’t think all those extra trucks on the road would have any impact on the inversion?

        • DT

          DS, unfortunately the refineries and the mining companies are controlling the data, so we don’t really know what kind of contribution they are making (see Fox and the Hen House slide). But depending on which of their numbers you you listen to, they are still anywhere from 5-17% of the contribution, which is substantial for a single source. But true, they are not the largest, which is why cheap gas isn’t necessarily a great thing. All I would ask is that the refineries be held to the same standard as private citizens: If I burn wood on a red day, I get fined. If the refinery pollutes on a red day, they should get a fine that is of the same relative size as the one I get. I would put the same restrictions on the power plants. Like private citizens, once it starts to hit Tesoro et al in the bank account, they’ll clean it up.

    • DD

      D bags? That’s beyond a little harsh. I was in Salt Lake over New Years, during a high pressure cycle. The smog was thick but I was super impressed with the community’s concern and some of the steps the locals took to decrease admissions. Small steps are still steps. Calling people who take action D Bags is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Jamey

    It’s true, individuals contribute the most to the pollution, but for people to reduce their vehicle and residential emissions they need better alternatives. Countined improvement to the public transportation system would go a long way. Currently most people need to drive to a trax stop or need to walk or bike a good distance to catch a bus… And fares are higher than it would cost most to just drive. Bottom line, government needs to get more involved. That’s one reason why the rally took place. Air quality improvements will benefit every signal person in the valley and lead to long term economic benefits for the Wasatch front.

  • Shredaholic

    They should recruit some big name professional athletes as supporters/ spokespeople from the city’s major sports teams, like the NBA Jazz or the Real Salt Lake soccer team. Then you’re talking some serious potential financial contribution towards the Athletes For Clean Air organization and much bigger exposure with all the national/ international media connections the pro sports teams have. Celebrity power!

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