Salt Lake City mayoral candidate David Garbett says if elected, he will try to move an oil refinery and a power plant out of the Salt Lake Valley.
“If we want to do something about air quality, we have to stop thinking small,” Garbett said in an interview Wednesday. “We have to start thinking about those big steps that are actually going to make a difference.”
Garbett said air quality would be his top priority as mayor.
On Wednesday, the former lawyer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance released an air quality plan which includes creating a city-wide clean air master plan and hiring more city attorneys to prosecute illegal polluters.
It also contains a pledge to incentivize the relocation of the Marathon oil refinery and Rocky Mountain Power’s Gadsby Plant away from the Salt Lake area.
Garbett acknowledged that the plan is ambitious and the incentives to get the companies to give up their properties could be costly.
“I can’t force them to [move], but I want the city to have that goal. Why not?” he said.
Garbett called the two facilities “some of our biggest polluters.” Industry accounts for about 13 percent of Utah’s total air pollution, according to UCAIR, a nonprofit focused on environmental quality.
He also pointed out that something similar has been done in Utah before, though not for exactly the same reasons.
“I got this idea from Utah Valley,” Garbett said. “Geneva Steel, one of the biggest polluters in the state, is no longer. They’ve been moved out of the valley. That area now is a place of substantial growth for housing and for commercial development.”
Geneva Steel wasn’t moved because of environmental concerns though. In 2001, following business losses, the mill laid off most of its workers before filing for bankruptcy a year later, according toa report by the Deseret News.
Garbett is inspired by the results though. Developers purchased the site, which now hosts millions of acres of retail, industrial and office space in the burgeoning city of Vineyard.
Other Salt Lake mayoral candidates were skeptical about Garbett’s plan to move the energy facilities.
In a statement, Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall she and “many, many others” have already looked at moving fossil fuel processors out of Salt Lake.
“Convincing a privately owned, properly licensed business to voluntarily leave the city could only begin with a mayor who has the political and technical experience to convene such a dialogue, including willing state partners,” Mendenhall said. “Such a move would almost certainly require tens of millions of city taxpayer dollars — something our residents should not be shouldered with alone. It’s something every candidate should want to do, but it’s not something any responsible candidate can or should promise.”
State Sen. Luz Escamilla applauded Garbett’s “ambitious agenda” and pointed to her own work on air quality in the Utah Legislature. She added: “I think it’s important to be realistic about cost and what can be accomplished so we see meaningful results for the residents of Salt Lake City, not pie in the sky promises during an election.”
Rainer Huck called Garbett’s plan “the typical heavy-handed, expensive, top down big government approach to solving problems that never work. All they succeed in doing is increasing taxes and regulations on our hard-working people, who are already overburdened.”
Huck said advancements in automotive technology will help cut air pollution in the coming years.
Businessman David Ibarra said it would be “fabulous” if the energy producers left Salt Lake City but is skeptical about the price tag, estimating it could cost close to a billion dollars to move the facilities and their infrastructure.
“That’s a lot of money,” Ibarra said. “If we could do that and be successful, I’m all in, but not at the expense of the city paying for it all. If the cost is too great, let’s spend it on affordable housing.”
Ibarra more affordable housing would bring new residents who already commute to Salt Lake City for work, which would cut down on car emissions.
Other mayoral candidates did not respond to a request for comment.