Utah air quality bills get inversion treatment

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 1:01 PM

Cimaron Neugebauer, Standard-Examiner Staff

SALT LAKE CITY – Rhetoric about clear air being a top priority for lawmakers appears to be nothing more than hot air, according to Utah clean air advocates.

“I guess in the end industry did a better job talking to legislators,” Salt Lake City resident Ingrid Griffee told the Standard-Examiner after she watched one of the final bills related to air quality get denied.

Griffee, with Utah Moms for Clean Air, said Utah clearly needs a unique law, because geographically it has a unique problem.

“We are currently abiding by minimum EPA regulations and yet we continue to have three weeks out of the year where we are in the red in air quality,” she said adding that we are sometimes worst in the nation or in Beijing, China.

On Thursday, HB 121 Air Quality Revisions sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R–North Salt Lake, ended in a tie vote and was sent to the rules committee. There may be a small chance for it to be revived once it is sent to rules. HB 121 was the last of five bills specifically related to addressing air quality when it came to tighter regulations on industry. The previous day, SB 164 Environmental Protection Amendments, which would have repealed the Division of Air Quality’s rule-making procedures, got shut down by one vote.

Lawmakers have said air quality would be a top priority in the 2014 session and Gov. Gary Herbert charged legislators to do something about pollution in his State of the State address.

Edwards was shocked to see HB 121 fail since the language in the bill had already been carefully vetted between all parties including industry representatives.

“I was really disappointed because I thought this is something that could have been a real game-changer for air quality in the state,” Edwards said.

Industry and clean air advocates had come together on the bill and at least come to a compromise.

“It was something everyone could live with or was moving us forward and I think everyone is pretty disappointed,” Edwards said. “It was a true compromise bill.”

The bill was a more subtle approach than SB 164 and would have allowed the rule-making board of the Division of Air Quality to implement a more stringent rule for air quality standards than the EPA in order to provide “reasonable added protections to public health or the environment of the state.”

“Why does industry always decide what air we can and can’t breath?” asked Clean Air Now representative Carl Ingwell during the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee meeting on Thursday. He believed SB 164 would have been the best bill.

“We already have a DAQ board that is so heavily stacked with industry representatives, now we have industry co-authoring clean air bills in the legislature,” Ingwell told the committee.

He also voiced concern over the Division of Air Quality telling Sen. Allen Christensen R-North Ogden on the Senate floor to vote against that bill and instead to vote for HB 121. In the end, no bill passed and SB 164 lost by one vote.

“This simply looks like an attempt to derail what we think is a far superior bill, one that would truly clean our air.”

All public comment except for one, a business owner in rural Utah, during the committee was in favor of voting for the bill and no questions were asked by committee members.

Alicia Connell, representing Communities for Clean Air, said the big roadblock with monitoring waste incineration company Stericycle was the state law won’t allow for regulating anything stricter than the EPA.

“We have a Utah problem we can’t make a Utah solution for because we have to go by the federal government,” Connell said.

Edwards even agreed to amend a word from “reasonable” to “evidence-based” if that would help the bill get a favorable recommendation. Earlier in the afternoon Edwards understood Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, was in favor of the bill. But the only one opposed to the motion to change the wording of the bill was Dabakis who said the language change would “eviscerate” and take out any teeth the bill had and by voting for it lawmakers would just be kicking the clean air can down the road another year.

“I believe the system is rigged to not have clean air,” Dabakis said during the meeting. “It’s been shameful.”

The bill received a nay vote from Dabakis, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

Griffee said mothers have something legislators apparently don’t – endurance and determination.

“Long after all of these legislators are voted out of office the moms will still be here if need be to advocate on behalf of our kids, and God-forbid if we still need it, my daughters will be her advocating on behalf of my grandchildren.”

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or cimaron@standard.net Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews

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