Utah ski areas and the Clean Power Plan

A temperature inversion in January 2010 created a lid over the Salt Lake Valley, trapping the toxic stew of pollutants. Photo/Jude Tibay

A temperature inversion in January 2010 created a lid over the Salt Lake Valley, trapping the toxic stew of pollutants. Photo/Jude Tibay

How ski areas in Utah helped sell the governor on the Clean Power Plan

by Allen Best

Apart from liberal-tilting Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah is a deeply conservative state and reliably Republican. In 2009, in a brief interview with this writer at a conference in Park City, then Lt. Gov. Herbert refused to concede the science of climate change.

But there’s no disputing the foul nature of the air during winter months, when temperature inversions can create a lid to contain pollutants. Heart attacks jump, and the fine particles in the air aggravate asthma and bronchitis. The pollution does not necessarily come from coal-fired power plants.

Ski areas, because of their higher elevations, are literally above this fray but not aloof from the damage. “From a tourism perspective, whether it’s skiing or not, it’s the first thing and the last thing people see when they fly in and out of the (Salt Lake) airport,” says Nathan Rafferty, executive director of Ski Utah, the state-wide trade association.

Onno Wieringa, president and general manager of the Alta Ski Area, and Peter Metcalf, chief executive of Black Diamond, the manufacturer, made the case for the EPA’s plan in a June op-ed published in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

“The reality is that the outdoor industry, particularly the ski industry, is feeling the impacts of climate change now, and Utah needs the Clean Power Plan to help protect a primary contributor to our economy,” they wrote. “In fact, our industry has business imperative to advocate for it. It is not idealism or political motivation to see this. It is mathematics and economics…”

See main story in MTN: A more unified ski industry alters its tone

Hebert has “agreed to comply,” in the words of Rafferty. “Agreeing to comply doesn’t mean he loves the plan, but he has agreed to submit one (if the state won’t submit a plan, the Feds will do it for them).”

Ski industry voices in New Hampshire may have also played a role in the decision of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to become the first Republican senator to support the Clean Power Plan. ClimateProgress, a website, suggested that Ayotte was driven to support Obama’s plan because she is in a tight race against the state’s Democratic governor, who supports the plan. In both 2008 and 2012, New Hampshire went for Obama.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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