For years, Utah has harbored the worst air quality of any U.S. state. Incidentally, Utah is the 3rd most polluted state. While it’s no surprise that Utah has some of the worst air quality in the United States, our pollutants have often drifted across state lines, polluting our neighbor states like Colorado and Wyoming. However, in response to federal regulatory policies that aim to control this crisis, Utah’s lawmakers have waged legal battles to ensure that Utah has the right to pollute, harming not only Utahns, but Coloradoans and Wyomingites as well.
The Good Neighbor Rule requires that upwind states, including Utah, take action to reduce their emissions of fossil fuel-induced air pollutants that blow to and pollute downwind states, hence requiring upwind states to be “good neighbors.” Under the Good Neighbor Rule, the EPA mandates upwind states that exceed emissions requirements on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide to develop plans to reduce emissions and prevent pollutant drift to neighboring states. However, if a state fails to take sufficient action to reduce emissions, the EPA can impose federal regulations or plans to reduce emissions.
Utah leaders have fought back hard against the policy. At the end of the spring 2023 legislative session, Utah Republican lawmakers allotted $2 million in legal fees to fight the EPA’s policy. In March of 2023, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, with the support of Governor Cox and other Utah Republican leaders, filed a lawsuit against the EPA, alleging that the EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule was a federal overreach and that the EPA’s rule would significantly raise the price of energy for consumers.
These assertions simply aren’t true. While EPA regulations would affect energy production and consumption costs, these impacts would be minimal. In fact, the Region for the Baseline and the Regulatory Control Alternatives estimates that the Good Neighbor Policy would only result in a 1% increase in the average retail electricity price for Utah and Nevada taxpayers.
An EPA fact sheet accompanying the Good Neighbor Rule proposal claims that the policy would save roughly 1,000 premature deaths and prevent up to 1.3 million cases of asthma from reduced emissions. Surely, the abundance of positive health outcomes from emission reduction is worth the regulation. Yet Utah’s lawmakers continually demonstrate that they value profit over people. Indeed, air pollution induced by fossil fuels cost Utah roughly $1.9 billion annually, a far more dire cost than the potential consequences spurred by a transition to renewable energy. But instead of pulling its weight, Utah has chosen to side with big oil, embracing deregulatory policies proven to harm Utahns at large.
To make strides in mitigating the current climate crisis, Utah must cooperate. If Utah lawmakers truly practiced the ideals and morals that they preach, they would, without a doubt, comply with the EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule. Clean air, a fundamental right, should not be a divisive objective but a shared commitment. By continuing to fund coal and non-renewable energy projects, Utah’s lawmakers will continually put Utahns and its eastward neighbors at risk. As Robert Uikley, a Colorado attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity puts it, “Utah is not being a good neighbor.”
Utah lawmakers must do better, and treat the climate crisis as it is: a crisis.