HEAL Utah’s Statement on the approval of the Utah Inland Port Authority Business Plan
On June 22, 2020, the Utah Inland Port Authority board (UIPA) approved their draft business plan. This plan, which was required in statute and has been anticipated for over three years and is said by the UIPA to provide guidelines for development of the port, was open to 30 days of public comment prior to its approval.
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) sees the plan as the first step in what may be the right direction as it finally acknowledges environmental impacts and includes several goal statements (which we believe are mislabeled as “strategies”) focused on sustainability. But there is still a need for more specific and measurable sustainability objectives that can be achieved only through much bolder, accountable, and well-defined strategies. The UIPA says that this business plan was intended only as a guideline and that the details will be in policies and procedures that will be presented, discussed, and voted on in future board meetings. So, while these sustainability goals are a hopeful first step, it still isn’t clear whether UIPA will be able to actually achieve them, which will require the strengthening of city, county and state environmental ordinances, statutes and regulations.
HEAL Utah submitted eight pages of comments on the proposed plan and, along with others who provided input, was disheartened to see that only four changes in wording were made to the business plan in response to that input – two that were technical and two that, while important (equity and dedicated sustainability staff), were relatively small in the context of the entire document.
Some of HEAL Utah’s recommendations to the UIPA business plan included:
- The adoption of environmental performance metrics by UIPA, local rules, and state legislation related to air quality, energy use, CO2 emissions, waste management (solid, water, and hazardous), habitat, water, light and noise pollution, and traffic.
- Actionable and accountable language should replace the frequent use of noncommittal terms like “promote” and “advocate.”
- Specific details on how not only UIPA will pursue these environmental goals but what additional actions will be necessary by what public and private entities to make the achievement of these goals possible.
- An explicit commitment for all port development strategies to be guided by principles of environmental justice, as the proposed port will be adjacent to neighborhoods that are already disproportionately impacted by pollution including air, water, land, noise, light, and waste.
- A UIPA staffing model that includes designated positions that will be filled by candidates with the expertise, responsibility, and authority to implement the business plans sustainability goals.
The UIPA approved the business plan at their board meeting on June 22, 2020, the same day that public comments closed, with no meaningful discussion among board members about the written public comments, and before the time on the agenda when verbal comments from the public were heard. This raised serious doubts that board members gave public input any serious consideration prior to voting for the plan. Since an ongoing concern with the initiation and evolution of inland port legislation and policy has been a lack of transparency and trust, approval processes like this will only deepen the existing divisions.
Any and all further decisions about the sustainability of the inland port should follow a process that solicits public and expert input, allows time for board members to review that input and requires them to do so, and involves discussion and questions from the board – all of this prior to any vote being taken.