SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Inland Port Authority Board unveiled a 5-year business plan Thursday aimed to increase business in the state while limiting impact to the state’s environment; however, groups opposed to the agency and project say the plan still doesn’t answer critical questions.
The 48-page plan envisions how Utah can be turned into a logistics hub where airplanes, trains and trucks can help facilitate goods from the state to across the globe; in turn, they see Utah becoming a "leader in revolutionizing global logistics for the next generation." It would do this by utilizing I-15, I-215, I-80, the Salt Lake City International Airport and Union Pacific rail lines that are all located in and around Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant.
In 2017, the logistics system helped generate a little more than one-third of the state’s gross domestic product and workforce, leading to $26 billion in earnings that year, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics. For example, a Utah business may receive raw products from a foreign country, assemble a new product and then be able to ship that product elsewhere. Having a port system would facilitate that faster.
"Logistics is the backbone of our economy. By establishing a strong, resilient, and flexible goods movement network statewide — built on real data and global best practices — the (board) will ensure the economic support we all need while addressing the issues we all care about," said Jack Hedge, the board’s executive director.
The document, developed by a national consulting firm CPCS, also outlines the nine basic duties of the authority board, such as maximizing "long-term economic benefits to the area, the region and the state," and "the creation of high-quality jobs."
But creating a hub for more planes, trains and vehicles has led to criticism from environmental advocates since Salt Lake County has struggled with pollution related to inversions and ozone for years. They say increasing vehicles will only lead to more pollution. Fourteen people were charged last year after protests of a July 9, 2019, meeting at the Utah State Chamber of Commerce building got out of hand.
The authority’s plan does say a portion of its duties include looking to balance out environmental impacts like air quality and other natural resources. The plan calls for incentives for locomotive and truck upgrades to "zero or near-zero emission technology," promoting "clean-cargo-handling" equipment at industrial locations and promoting clean energy fueling infrastructure. Some of its models show a potential for 11-19% reductions in emissions through policies from the plan.
The agency announced last week it had struck a deal with Rocky Mountain Power on a 10-year power use forecast plan. It’s meant to help find ways to get to "100% renewable energy, planning for the electrification of freight, cargo and logistics equipment, and focused efforts on energy efficiency programs."
That said, groups Stop the Polluting Port Coalition and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment said Thursday they believe the plan still leaves questions about the environmental impact of new plane and train trips, as well as new congestion and construction related to the inland port, and thus it "falls far short of providing the information Utah taxpayers need to decide if the port is a good use of our hard-earned money.
"The newly released plan is filled with a lot of words like 'sustainable,' 'renewable energy,' 'zero-emissions,' 'clean technologies,' and 'monitoring,' but otherwise gives us no actual information," Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said in a statement after the plan was released. "It gives us no reason to reconsider what has been obvious since the beginning. This inland port will bring a lot more pollution and dirty energy into the Salt Lake Valley and is exactly the wrong direction for our economic future."
As the inland port moves forward, Salt Lake City Councilor and the Inland Port Authority board of directors chair James Rogers said he believed that they could find a balance to improve economic and environmental needs.
"The Inland Port Authority has a responsibility to look at Utah’s entire logistics system and bring together the right partners that will make that system economically and environmentally sustainable in the decades to come," he said. "This new plan directs us how to accomplish that vision."