Air Quality Showdown Looms (Audio)

Amanda Smith UDEQ
Amanda Smith – Executive Director, Utah Department of Environmental Quality photo courtesy of SL Tribune

Since the Utah House has passed both of Representative Rebecca Edwards’s (Republican – Davis County) air quality measures in HB 226 – Air Quality Amendments and HB 229 – Air Quality Modifications, a showdown in the Senate looms.

The all-powerful industry lobby has long had a death-grip on keeping emission regulation at a level that is comfortable to industry, but allows metropolitan Utah to be a federally designated “non-attainment” zone for many days during the atmospheric inversions of Utah’s winters.

Public clamor has been building for more than three years on the subject and has been spurred by numerous activist groups including the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Utah Moms for Clean Air. The public sentiment may be reaching a critical mass on one of the state’s most long-standing controversies.

Governor Gary Herbert has been on the record as saying that there are air pollution laws already that would require enforcement from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) and the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), but that presently there are no enforcement mechanisms in place to assist with making certain Utah’s air is as clean as it can be. Those responsible for pollution rivaling Bejing would be called to account for their compliance, if only such a mechanism was in place.

Herbert’s environmental quality director, Amanda Smith, originally appointed by Jon Huntsman, Jr., spoke to Utah Political Capitol immediately following the passage of the House bills that will now be considered by the Senate. This is considered a potentially perilous time for the proposed laws, since last week a similar effort by Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) failed in the Senate – hours after a luncheon at Salt Lake City’s Little America hotel was held for lawmakers that was sponsored by the Utah Mining Association, the Utah Manufacturing Association, and the Utah Petroleum Association.

All eyes and ears will be watching the next debate in Utah’s Senate to see if, once again, the effort to put regulatory teeth into the Beehive State’s air quality will fall to the lobbying efforts of those industrial interests. The governor’s budget request allowed for the “boots on the ground” that Ms. Smith says will be needed, and she is ready to implement, if the Utah Senate will now approve the laws.

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