Flagged Bill: HB 121 – Air Quality Revisions, Rep. Edwards and SB 164 – Environmental Protection Amendments, Sen. Davis

utah republican representative becky edwards
Representative Becky Edwards (Republican – North Salt Lake)

As if we needed further proof that 2014 is the year that lawmakers begin to seriously address air quality issues, two pieces of similar legislation have sprung forth that would have a direct effect on the air we breathe. What makes these two particular pieces of legislation interesting is that they show that not only are the House and the Senate equally interested in making a change, but that such legislation has bipartisan support.

It is a little known fact that the Utah State Legislature decided to artificially tie the hands of the Division of Air Quality (DAQ), saying in no uncertain terms, that “no rule which the [DAQ] makes… may be more stringent than federal regulations.” In short, the DAQ can not make an air pollution regulation that goes beyond the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations.

One major shortcoming of this law, which has become self evident in the 20-plus years the regulation has been in place, is that federal standards do not take into account the specific topography of Utah in general and the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley in particular. Indeed, federal regulations are based on nationwide averages of acceptable industrial, residential, commercial, and transportation related emissions. This fact means that an “acceptable” amount of emissions in Denver, Omaha, Sacramento, or just about anywhere else in the country where pollution regularly gets blown out by winds, becomes unacceptable when considering the annual inversion created by our unique geography.

Yet, the DAQ is stuck, unable to raise standards beyond what federal averages set as the basement level regulations.

Senator Gene Davis (Democrat - Salt Lake City)
Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City)

This is where Representative Becky Edwards (Republican – North Salt Lake) and Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) step in, with their proposed HB 121 – Air Quality Revisions and SB 164 – Environmental Protection Amendments, respectively.

Edwards’s bill, if successful, specifically modifies the section of code that currently prohibits the DAQ from having more stringent measures, to allow the division to create more restrictive air quality standards so long as “the more stringent rule will provide essential added protections to public health or the environment.”

Davis’s bill goes one step further, eliminating the entire section of code that currently sets the basement/cap. State code currently allows the DAQ to, in theory, raise standards, but only after a lengthy process that is clearly less effective when creating air pollution standards. Though Edwards’s bill strikes this section from current code, Davis, by deleting the entire section of law, would free up the DAQ from any and all requirements necessary to enact stricter air quality laws.

Davis’s bill, which has already died, and then been brought back from committee hearings, has run into strong opposition from the Utah Petroleum Association and others, claiming that changes in the air quality laws could spell disaster for industry and businesses within the state. Supporters claim that the current law is not workable and is harmful to the community in general. Edwards’s bill has yet to be heard in front of a committee, however similar criticisms and praise can be expected.

Though it can be argued that there will be short-term harm to certain industries, and that air pollution is actually lower along the Wasatch Front when compared to the situation 40 years ago, these arguments ignore the fact that our long term growth depends on a healthy populous and that we must take advantage of current air pollution controls to reduce pollution to “tolerable” levels. Both bills would allow the state to better regulate state issues, rather than being beholden to federal guidelines, and place more power with the citizenry.

To contact Representative Edwards, click here or call 801-554-1968. To contact Senator Davis, click here or call 801-484-9428.

Representative Edwards’ HB 121

Impact on Average Utahn
High Impact  5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   No Impact

Need for Legislation
Necessary   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   Unnecessary

Lemon Score
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker

Senator Davis’ SB 164

Impact on Average Utahn
High Impact   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   No Impact

Need for Legislation
Necessary   5 . 4 . 1 . 2 . 1 . 0   Unnecessary

Lemon Score
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker

You can track these, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

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