Clean Air Legislation Gutted Before Dying in Committee

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

Despite efforts to repeal, the state law that forbids the Utah Department of Air Quality (DAQ) to develop air quality standards more stringent than the Environmental Protection Agency’s will stand for at least another year.

Representative Becky Edwards (Republican – North Salt Lake), whose House district contains five oil refineries and the controversial Stericycle facility, wasn’t able to gain favor from the Senate Natural Resources Committee Thursday afternoon for her bill, HB 121 – Air Quality Revisions, which would have allowed the DAQ to tighten air quality standards further than national averages.

“[HB 121] does provide a process that is still very strenuous, but we believe it is a necessary tool that we need to provide for the DAQ,” Edwards told the committee, emphasizing that the unique air quality problem in Utah requires a unique Utah solution. “It is yet another example of how states are more effective and how Utah can do things better than a federal ‘one size fits all’ solution,” she added.

Edwards then launched into a football analogy in response to the general comment that she has received that the federal standards keep moving the goal post. “If the EPA and the federal government continue to shift the goal posts on this issue, then we want Utah to be in the position of a quarterback that has a playbook that allows us to be successful at scoring. All this bill does is give Utah options.”

Carl Ingwell from the group Clean Air Now testified that a similar bill from Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), SB 164 – Environmental Protection Amendments, was “a far superior bill.” Ingwell was not inherently opposed to Edwards’ proposed legislation, but he wondered aloud why “last night, on the Senate floor, Senator [Allen] Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) stated that the DAQ urged him to vote against SB 164 and instead vote for HB 121…this simply looks like an attempt to derail what we think is a far superior bill.” Ingwell also said that the “reasonable” standard was inserted into the bill and questioned what the term actually meant. “We worry about the word ‘reasonable.’ What is reasonable to the public is not necessarily reasonable to industry,” Ingwell added.

Bryce Bird, Director of the Department of Air Quality lamented that federal standards don’t always address Utah’s specific needs. “Our pollution is different,” Bird told the committee. “As we learn about our current situation, our current circumstances, we should have the ability to address those standards…in a way that is unique to Utah, a way that puts our own goals and priorities in place.”

Prior to the final vote, Senator Pete Knudson (Republican – Brigham City) proposed an amendment that required specific, evidence based science behind any DAQ change. The amendment stripped any of the already questionable effectiveness of the bill, as the DAQ does not have the budget necessary to conduct specific scientific studies unique to Utah’s air, and, therefore, would be unable to recommend any changes.

The amendment clearly disgusted and disappointed Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City): “This is the moment for the legislature to speak to clean air, it is this bill – everything else was an aside. And I think so far we are failing the test. This was the test that said ‘we going to be serious and do something about clean air or we are not’…I believe the system is rigged to not have clean air. Industry has been ‘no, no, no, no’ and they haven’t put up to their responsibility to the citizens of this state. The Manufacturers Association, the Petroleum Association, the Farm Bureau, it has been shameful that they simply refuse [to participation]…[the motion to amend the bill] takes all the teeth out of it.”

The amendment to the bill was successful, and Dabakis was joined by Senators David Hinkins (Republican – Orangeville) and Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City) to vote no, resulting in a 3-3 tie within the committee. In committee, a tie goes to the no votes and the bill died.

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