Worst in the country in the winter-

“Oh ye mountains high and the clear blue sky . . .”  These are words from a Mormon hymn that isn’t sung in church much anymore. I don’t know the reason, but it is appropriate because northern Utah has slowly developed the dirtiest air the country in the winter. High emissions are one reason, but the biggest factor is the strong temperature inversions that form in the mountain valleys whenever high pressure builds. High pressure usually means good weather, but not in northern Utah.

Cache Valley is the best (or worst) example. In part, I grew up there. I still remember the dirty winter fogs and the cloud of black that hung over Logan, a large town, when I was in high school. The black is gone because coal isn’t burned any more for space heating, but the pollution is now more widespread and more toxic.

The population of Cache Valley has grown. This is in part because of its beauty 3 seasons of the year. This means more traffic. In the remaining agricultural parts of the valley, CAFOs have proliferated. The result is residents breathing sun-modified auto emissions and manure emissions throughout the winter.

Utah’s bad air. Opinion in the Salt Lake Tribune

http://www.airquality.utah.gov/aqp/  This URL gives real time pollution levels, and they are not bad in the springtime.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

4 Responses to Northern Utah, the land of filthy air

  1. mikepost says:

    They are still burning coal in power plants in that neck of the woods…and when the weather gets bad and visability is poor, they burn the worst of it so that the visable yellow gray smoke wont be seen. If you watch a plant over time and note the type of weather present you can see a difference.

  2. Mike says:

    Ralph – How would you compare Idaho Falls? I felt sick when I drove down from Teton into Idaho Falls along the Palisades Reservoir last summer. The air reminded me of Chicago.

    • Mike,

      Northern Utah in the winter is much worse than Idaho, although all the mountain valleys can trap pollution in an inversion.

      Summertime air pollution in Idaho, outside of the Boise area where there is a lot of traffic air pollution, is primarily from forest fires. Southern Idaho also gets dust storms that blow off of denuded and desert lands.

      I don’t know what would make you sick where you were. That is a clean air area except during some forest fire years.

  3. J Griffin says:

    Seems to fit the rest of this strange creation of life. Always a catch no matter what or where. Here, the friendliest people I’ve ever met, low housing cost, inexpensive labor, very very low crime, beautiful mountains, everything you would want and you can see how these Mormon people felt they had found the promised land. Now? Filthiest air in the nation, not even a close second and getting significantly worse by the day. The air is so bad, it will make you constantly ill with sinus problems, nausea, pain in your lungs if you are an athlete and kids are sick and miss school frequently. What a shame. We have to move because of air quality health related issues. Loved the place otherwise.


April 2011


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey