Nov 3, 2022 - News

EPA launches west side environmental justice study

Illustration of a cracked magnifying glass showing the earth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched an environmental justice assessment into the challenges facing Salt Lake City's west side residents.

Why it matters: Residents of the area have long encountered poor air quality, dust from the shrinking Great Salt Lake, pollution from its proximity to freeways, refineries and the growing Salt Lake City International Airport, and a lack of trees.

  • A 2020 University of Utah study found Salt Lake County schools located on the west side had persistently higher levels of air pollutants.
  • Residents also fear the construction of a controversial inland port could worsen emissions in the area.

State of play: The EPA-funded study comes after the advocacy group Westside Coalition, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other stakeholders pushed for a federal assessment, Richard Mylott, an EPA spokesperson, told Axios.

  • The Westside Coalition initially asked for the assessment in 2020.
  • Mendenhall then sent a letter to the EPA requesting the study in January, citing the Utah Inland Port's potential impact.
  • Preliminary findings from the EPA's Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool indicated that the west side neighborhoods are "overburdened" with multiple environmental issues, Mylott said.

Context: The west side is home to Salt Lake City's most racially diverse neighborhoods as a result of historic redlining practices.

  • It includes Rose Park, Glendale, Westpointe, Fairpark and Poplar Grove and has a large Latino population.

Between the lines: Community members living in the area, which is divided from the city's east side by the heavily trafficked Interstate 15 and railroad tracks, have felt ignored by local and state leaders for decades.

What they're saying: Daniel Strong, president of the Westside Coalition, who lives in Rose Park, told Axios the study would raise greater awareness of the issues and help them advocate for solutions to address the environmental disparities.

  • "We already bear the brunt of so much of that," Strong said. "As we grow and develop the west side, we [should] do it in a way that tries to make things better and not worse on the environmental front."

Details: The EPA anticipates the process will take about six to nine months to complete, Mylott said.

  • It will also include multiple neighborhood meetings to gather concerns from community members.

Of note: The EPA is still working to refine details about the project's scope, spokesperson David Piantanida told Axios in a statement.

What's next: The EPA's findings will be compiled into a report that will be presented to community members.

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