In the early 1990s, the United States Army proposed to destroy old and leaking bombs, land mines and missiles filled with a deadly nerve agent. In Utah, where 45% of the entire U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons was located, the Army wanted to incinerate this deadly material at the Tooele Army Depot near the towns of Tooele and Grantsville, Utah.
Initially, Utah residents were hardly questioning the effects that this inceration might have on the workers and people living downwind of the Army Depot.
But a few brave residents of Grantsville started to attend hearings, ask tough questions, and encourage others to get involved. These citizens created a grassroots organization called Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR). FAIR worked with whistleblowers from inside the Depot to take the Army and its contractor to court, get the weapons destruction site moved further from the population, and upgrade the safety requirements and processes. But FAIR didn’t stop there. Shortly after forming, they also took on some of the worst polluters in Utah by campaigning against both Magcorp and the Davis County Garbage Incinerator who were releasing dioxin, a pollutant that had led to the emergency evacuation and eventual permanent abandonment of the town of Times Beach, Missouri in 1983.
Recognizing the numerous ongoing threats to public health and the environment, these organizers saw the important role they could fill and applied to become an official nonprofit, gaining 501(c)(3) status in 1999.
While taking on these polluters, FAIR realized that Utah’s Great Salt Lake desert was increasingly being targeted by commercial interests both within and outside the state as a site for the disposal of the nation’s radioactive waste, despite the fact that Utah had never benefited from nuclear power. To protect Utahns from these predatory corporations, FAIR expanded its scope and, in 2001, became the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah).
Since then, HEAL Utah has identified other major environmental threats to the health and safety to Utah’s citizens and its environment. Accordingly, HEAL expanded its mission throughout the 2000s and 2010s to include clean air, renewable energy, and climate change.
Today, HEAL works with grassroots advocates, community groups throughout Utah, and state and local policymakers to prevent the contamination of Utah’s natural world that puts our health at risk and to create a cleaner and healthier future for generations to come.
Learn more about what HEAL does today in our about page and learn more about HEAL’s early history in the book Canaries on the Rim by our co-founder Chip Ward. Plus, keep reading for a quick look at some of our major victories throughout our history.
In the late 1970s Chip Ward and his wife left the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch in Capitol Reef National Park to raise their children in the classic small-town American setting of Grantsville, Utah. There, on the edge of the Great Basin Desert, disturbing tales of local sickness and death interrupted an idyllic life. A seven-year quest to understand a hidden history of ecocide followed. Canaries on the Rim is Ward’s firsthand account of that quest and how lessons learned in the wilderness were later applied to building opposition to toxic waste disposal, chemical weapons incineration, industrial pollution, and nuclear waste storage. The secret holocaust that is unfolding along the toxic shadow of America’s Great Basin Desert is grim, but Ward’s colorful and often-humorous story is not. Canaries on the Rim is a warning and a call to arms, but it is also a compelling drama and a lively primer on environmental activism. If civil action took place in Edward Abbey’s West, this is the book that would result.
- Helped shepherd the passage of a bill (SB24) to ban Class B and Class C nuclear waste from Utah
- This bill meant that only Class A low-level waste (which loses nearly all of its hazard after 100 years) can come to Utah.
- Stopped the private fuel storage proposal in which a group of utilities wanted to bring high-level, spent fuel from nuclear reactors across the country and store it “temporarily” on the Goshute reservation in Utah’s west desert
- This plan finally died for good in 2012
- Began the fight to stop Utah’s first commercial nuclear reactors on the Green River
- HEAL and our supporters continue to fight this project on the basis of preventing radioactive waste wherever we can — in state court, in front of SITLA, and at the legislature
- Led the effort to stop Utah from becoming the radioactive waste dump for foreign interests when EnergySolutions sought permission to bring 20,000 tons of Italy’s nuclear waste to Utah
- Halted the disposal of 40,000 tons of depleted uranium in Utah by demanding that state regulators and Governor Herbert take action (the governor put a moratorium on the waste until a performance assessment was completed)
- The Department of Environmental Quality is still analyzing the health and safety of depleted uranium and the resulting performance assessment is expected in 2019
- Began participating in Rocky Mountain Power’s electricity-planning process, which we still take a significant part in today to help the utility and regulators develop more renewable energy
- Worked with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research to publish the eUtah Report, which explains how our state can transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050
- Pushed for a community energy choice program in Utah, similar to one in Sonoma County, California, that would allow residents to pool their demand and bulk-purchase renewable energy directly from developers
- Expanded our work to include clean air and began researching specific issues, developing legislation, and collaborating with other clean air advocates.
- Organized the successful Clean Air Now rally
- Brought attention to tier 3 fuel and cars by encouraging Utahns to file several thousand comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of tier 3
- Successfully lobbied Governor Herbert to show his support for tier 3
- Organized another clean air rally which helped push the issue in front of the legislature, who then considered a record 22 air quality bills, 9 of which passed
- Stopped Rocky Mountain Power’s bid to institute a monthly fee on rooftop solar owners
- Passed the “not stricter than” bill in the legislature, which freed up the hands of air quality regulators
- Developed and released Brown Sky, a report highlighting Rocky Mountain Power’s energy mix and lobbying practices
- Helped pass a hot water heater bill in the legislature
- Worked on the regional haze rule which implemented stricter controls on Rocky Mountain Power’s coal plants
- Negotiated with Rocky Mountain Power, the solar industry, the Public Service Commission, and the governor’s office to improve the utility’s proposed electric rate increases for rooftop solar users
- These negotiations included the completion of a new rooftop solar study by Rocky Mountain Power, which is expected in the spring of 2019
- Championed Utah’s first climate resolution (HCR007), which recognized a changing climate and pledged to combat it
- Submitted technical comments and led the grassroots charge to have the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control Board deny an EnergySolutions exemption request from a state law governing depleted uranium shipments