In 1991 I relocated the small outdoor equipment company I founded, Black Diamond Equipment, from the coast of southern California to the base of the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. I wanted location to reside on the asset side of our balance sheet and to be accretive to my vision of Black Diamond “being one with the sports we serve, absolutely indistinguishable from them.” Salt Lake City with its immediate access to the majestic Wasatch with its federally protected alpine Wilderness Areas seemed the nearly perfect spot. Besides the Wasatch, the small yet vibrant city boasted a leading university, technical colleges, a hub airport, responsive government, and a thriving software industry. If there was a concern, it was the valley’s air quality, especially during winter inversions; however, business, academic, and government officials assured me this was a problem they were working to improve.
As a child growing up in the air pollution of 1960s New York City, as a college and post college student residing in the inversions of 1970s Denver, Colorado, area, and as young professional launching a career in the truly foul, ozone air of 1980s Southern California, I had seen how each of these population dense municipalities had gone on to dramatically clean up their air through appropriate regulations and citizen protections. Hence, I had little doubt that Utah’s Wasatch Front could do the same. The technology and proven methodologies were there for the adopting.
More than a quarter century later, the situation is often worse, not better, and on some winter days we vie with Beijing, China, for the worst air of a capital city. The state’s legislature and governor have legally prevented policies that would effectively deal with this issue, claiming we don’t want job-killing regulations to stymie the creation of jobs. Yet, the lack of legal protections for the rights of our citizens to breathe non-polluted, non-carcinogenic, non-particulate-filled air poses the greatest risk to our quality of life, which is the basis of our economic vibrancy and the reason companies have relocated and expanded here. Quality of life has been an asset in the recruitment and retention of employees, but no longer. In my time leading the growth of Black Diamond, there have been numerous occasions where we failed to successfully recruit candidates who interviewed on days when our smog levels were high. They simply asked, “Why would I want to raise my family here?”
If our elected leadership are keen on seeing the Wasatch Front continue to transition to a vibrant hub of high paying creative class, knowledge worker, technology, and medical equipment companies we must also accept the loss of the small number of jobs created by those mining and extractive industries that are major contributors to poisoning of our air. We must implement the progressive air quality protections and technologies that have proven so effective in Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and other vibrant, growing metropolitan areas.
Yes, every winter will continue to see days of naturally occurring temperature inversions, but we don’t have to fill that natural fog with the particulate matter and poisons that we do now. The solution is relatively simple, but incredibly challenging. We need representatives who put the health of their citizens, their quality of life, and the long term vibrancy of Utah’s economy first. If we make this a “primary and binary” decision evaluation tool for electing any representative, we can and will succeed in this essential quest and right.
Peter Metcalf is the founder and longtime CEO (recently retired) of Salt Lake City based Black Diamond Equipment. For over 20 years, Peter has been a nationally recognized leader in public policy formulation relative to our public lands, business recruitment, recreation, and quality of life issues. b. 1955