When the Army prepared to incinerate weapons filled with deadly nerve agent at the Tooele Army Depot in the early 1990s, the number of Utahns questioning the effect on workers and people living downwind could be counted on one hand. By comparison, in the seven other states with proposed chemical weapons incinerators, the Army program was considered highly controversial and citizen opposition was widespread.
Knowing that government never performs well when citizens look the other way, a few brave people started attending hearings, asking tough questions, and getting others involved. They soon create a grassroots group, Families Against Incinerator Risk, and worked with whistle-blowers to take the Army and its contractor to court. They also expanded their efforts and took on some of the worst polluters in the state by starting campaigns against dioxin pollution from both Magcorp and the Davis County Garbage Incinerator.
It soon became clear that Utah was also being targeted by predatory corporations as the place to dump the nation’s nuclear wastes. FAIR decided to spread its wings and in 2001 became the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah).
To read more about HEAL’s early history, check out the book from our co-founder Chip Ward, Canaries on the Rim, which tells the story of his work with FAIR and related endeavors.
Find Out More about HEAL’s Past Accomplishments by Clicking the Links Below:
For most of the 2000s, HEAL was best known for our work on nuclear waste issues. Each year, it seemed we played nuclear “whack-a-mole,” challenging constant attempts by EnergySolutions (previously known as EnviroCare) to bring more and hotter waste to Utah: In 2005, HEAL helped shepherd the passage of a bill to ban hotter Class B & C nuclear waste from Utah. This law has meant that EnergySolutions can only take Class A low-level waste, which loses nearly all of its hazard after 100 years. Class B and C waste stays hazardous for up to 500. Read more about the issue here: Deseret News: Senate OKs Class B & C Waste Ban
Also in the mid-2000s, HEAL played an instrumental role in stopping the “Private Fuel Storage” proposal. A group of utilities wanted to bring thousands of tons of high-level, spent fuel from nuclear reactors across the country and store it “temporarily” on the Goshute Reservation in Utah’s West Desert. This outrageous plan finally died for good in 2012.
In 2007, the public first learned of then-state Rep. Aaron Tilton’s plan to build Utah’s first commercial nuclear reactors on the Green River. HEAL continues to fight this project wherever we can: In state court, in front of SITLA, at the legislature, and in the court of public opinion. Click here to learn more about the proposed Green River Reactors.
Also in 2008, HEAL led the effort to stop Utah from becoming the radioactive waste dump for all the world after EnergySolutions sought permission to bring 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy into Utah. If they had succeeded, this plan would have opened the door for any country to send its nuclear refuse to our state. Deseret News: EnergySolutions Abandons Plan to Import Italian Nuclear Waste to Utah
In 2009, HEAL fought to block the imminent disposal of 40,000 tons of a long-lived radioactive waste called depleted uranium. By demanding that the state and Governor Herbert take action, two trainloads of depleted uranium were stopped on the tracks in South Carolina before they could be sent to Utah. In the meantime, we urged state regulators to better study whether depleted uranium should even come here. Five years later, that study is nearly complete and a decision from the state looms. Click here to learn more.
In 2009, HEAL began an active campaign to promote more renewable energy. We realized that the root of the multitude of toxic and nuclear waste problems in Utah could be traced to unsustainable and dirty energy development– whether from fossil fuels or nuclear power. Read more about HEAL’s renewable energy campaigns here.
Beginning in 2010, we actively began participating in Rocky Mountain Power’s complex electricity-planning process. We urge the utility and state regulators to develop more renewable energy and take into account the full environmental and public health costs of continued coal-burning. Read more about our current coal campaign here.
In 2011, HEAL began a campaign to push our largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, to boost its use of our state’s bountiful wind, solar and geothermal resources. We brought Megan Matson to town to discuss how Sonoma County has successfully created a program to allow residents to pool their demand and “bulk-purchase” renewable energy directly from developers. HEAL began a push for a similar “Community Energy Choice” program in Utah. By educating and coordinating with leaders in Summit County, Park City, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County, we are currently seeing this plan move forward.
In 2012, HEAL got involved in the effort to clean up Northern Utah’s dirty air. Realizing we could bring our unique regulatory, grassroots, and media expertise to the most pressing public health issue in Utah, HEAL began working closely with clean-air minded legislators to research and propose a slate of new air quality bills for the Utah Legislature. In 2014, that effort bore fruit when a record 22 bills were introduced, and a record 9 passed both houses of the Legislature. Read more about HEAL’s clean air work here. And stay up-to-date on the latest legislation here.
In the spring of 2013, HEAL was the first to call attention to so-called “Tier 3” cars and fuel. We encouraged Utahns to file several thousand comments to the EPA in support of this new rule – which, more than any other one thing, will have the biggest impact on cleaning up Utah’s dirty air. In fact, according to the EPA’s own analysis, Northern Utah counties would benefit more than any places in the country from “Tier 3.” We reached out to car dealerships, medical professionals, and the recreation industry to bolster support for “Tier 3.” HEAL also presented to the Air Quality Board on this issue, urging them to send a letter to the EPA, calling for the implementation of “Tier 3,” which they did. Finally, we successfully lobbied Governor Gary Herbert to show his support. We were thrilled (and somewhat humored) to have persuaded Utah’s red-state governor to ask the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency to implement more environmental regulations! Now, Governor Herbert, the legislature, and the Clean Air Action Team are actively working to bring “Tier 3” fuels to Utah as quickly as possible.
For nearly half of the twentieth century, Utahns suffered the health consequences of living downwind of nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test Site. To prevent this from ever happening again, HEAL has long had a dedicated campaign to prevent the resumption of nuclear weapons testing, as well as any other military programs that would pave the way for such programs. Similarly, HEAL seeks to make the stories of downwinders heard in the public realm and policy-making sphere, as well as to support increased federal compensation for radioactive testing victims and their families.
- In 2007, HEAL led the charge, along with concerned citizens in Southern Utah, to halt the Defense Department’s plans to set off a simulated nuclear explosion called “Divine Strake” at the Nevada Test Site. We were very concerned that this bomb would stir up and disperse long-lived radioactive material through the air, once again threatening Utah’s communities living downwind.
- In 2009, we worked with Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R) and Rep. Jennifer Seelig (D) to usher through a unanimous resolution in the Utah State Legislature calling for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- In 2010, HEAL Utah helped educate and organize Utah support for ratification of the New START treaty to reduce stockpiles of certain nuclear weapons held by both the United States and Russia.
- In 2012, we helped organize Utah’s first “Downwinders’ Day of Remembrance,” at which state leaders from both parties called for an end to nuclear weapons testing and the expansion of federal compensation to downwinder victims.