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Many Left Unheard at Congressman Stewart's Salt Lake City Town Hall

Andrea Smardon

There was a packed house for Utah Congressman Chris Stewart’s Town Hall in Salt Lake City last night. In fact, there were many who didn’t get into the small library conference room in the Avenues neighborhood. Constituents had questions about the Congressman’s stance on environmental protection, immigration reform, and military action in Syria, but a number of people left feeling they did not have their voices heard.

Environmental activists from across the Wasatch Front seized on Congressman Chris Stewart’s town hall as an opportunity to rally for air quality. As Chair of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, Stewart has recently questioned the science behind the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on ozone pollution, issuing a subpoena to release the data, and suggesting that the policy is driven by a partisan agenda. That’s angered those who want cleaner air in Utah – like Carl Ingwell who organized a protest at the state Capitol last winter calling for more pollution control.

“Chris Stewart’s attack on the EPA and peer reviewed science has the potential to do our airshed insurmountable harm, and we’re here today to let Congressman Stewart know that we’re not going to let him do that," Ingwell says. "This is out state and our Congressional district, and we believe in science.”

Stewart insists that he’s not challenging the science.

“We’re not disagreeing with the science because we haven’t see the science," he says. "The only thing we’re saying is show us the science. You’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money looking at these things. Before you create regulations that will cost 90 billion dollars or more. Before you create regulations, just show us the science, and again, I think that’s a reasonable thing to ask.”

Stewart says that he does try to represent his constituents, though it’s challenging in a district that stretches from Salt Lake City to St. George.

“There’s people on the left, people on the right, and bunch of people in the middle, and we do our very best to represent all of them," he says. "Sometimes these folks will agree with me and sometimes they won’t. The one thing I can promise people is we’ll always listen to them.”

Stewart points out that he’s holding 15 town halls across Utah. But as it turns out, not everyone would get a chance to speak at this town hall. The event was sponsored by the Greater Avenues Community Council in a library meeting room – with a capacity to hold about 100 people. There were many who couldn’t get in, like Susan Stewart of Glendale – no relation to the Congressman.

“It’s packed in there, so all of us that are out here, so all of us that are wanting to speak to Rep. Stewart are not going to be able to get in there to voice our view," Stewart says. "We are not happy with his position.”

Diana Paredes was hoping to ask Stewart questions about immigration reform. The House is under pressure to pass immigration legislation before the end of the year.

“I just think events like these are just crucial in getting to know where representatives stand as these efforts are being conducted nationally, and it’s just a shame that we couldn’t ask him questions about that tonight,” she says.

For those who did get into the meeting, there were questions asked about immigration reform as well as pollution regulations. Stewart invited those who didn’t get a chance to speak to schedule a private meeting. He promised he would not turn anyone away.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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