Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon may be mild mannered, but he’s no shrinking violet.
The scene was Wednesday's hearing of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. The committee was considering a bill to examine impacts of Las Vegas pumping water from Utah’s west desert. (Vegas water czars are permitting a giant pipeline to move water from the Utah-Nevada border 300 miles to Las Vegas. Ranchers in Utah’s Snake Valley fear the pumping will create a dustbowl.)
Corroon’s Salt Lake County is among governments opposing Vegas pumping fearing it could further damage Salt Lake County’s already questionable air quality. (Some of the yuck hovering over Salt Lake City summer skies isn’t car exhaust, it’s the desert blowing east.)
HB 120, proposing creation of a Snake Valley research and advisory team, passed unanimously out of committee, but not before committee member Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, suggested air quality studies be taken out of the bill. A longtime foe of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Noel said environmental groups could use state-sponsored air quality research in court. Among environmentalists favorite arguments are air quality and global warming, “both of which I think are red herrings,” he said. (Noel is sponsoring a resolution this session asking Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to withdraw from the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state pact aimed as curbing greenhouse gasses.)
“If you dried up all the [water], killed all the wildlife, kicked the ranchers off the ground ... what the heck difference does it make if a little dust is blowing around up there?” Noel asked. "How could we make this [bill] so we don’t make the focus of our arguments on air quality and make it on the real issues."
When it came time for Corroon to speak, the mayor said he appreciated Noel’s concerns but said for Salt Lake County air quality, “is real.”
“For us it is real both on an air quality standard and on an economic development standard," Corroon said, noting that the county risks losing federal road funding if its air quality isn’t kept in check. Corroon additionally noted that some studies have suggested dust in the air reduces mountain snowfall. “Obviously our ski resorts are very, very important to us in Salt Lake County.”Text of the bill and an audio recording of the meeting can be found here. Noel speaks at about the 14 minute mark. Corroon addresses the Committee around minute 24.