Before Utah’s 62nd Legislature adjourned for the regular year’s business on March 9, The Utah Air Quality Board issued a formal objection addressing the effort behind HB 65 – Air Conservation Act Amendments sponsored by Representative Mike Shultz (Republican – Hooper); requesting a veto from Governor Gary Herbert on March 3rd.
The legislation would specifically prevent the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) from creating rules that would restrict the cooking of food with polluting sources such as wood or charcoal. Air quality activists say that for approximately 340 days per year, there could be no problem. On the red-air days, they say maybe some intervention could be required
The DAQ, a division within the Utah Department of Environmental Quality tasked with improving Utah’s air, specifically cited the concerns of Shultz’s and Senate sponsor Stuart Adams’ (Republican – Layton) districts, both of which are within so-called “non-attainment areas” for fine particulate air pollutants, saying that “HB 65 would prevent the board from developing sensible and science-based rules to address solid-fuel burning associated with cooking.”
HEAL UTAH Joins the Chorus of Objection
On Thursday, an assembly of fifty-plus activists representing HEAL UTAH, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and other environmentally aware groups, gathered at noon near the headquarters of Traeger, a newly-established Utah company which designs, manufactures and distributes “wood-pellet grills” for outdoor cooking applications. HEAL UTAH claims that wood pellet heating for habitation has been a contentious issue related to the toxic winter inversions occurring along the Wasatch Front and that asking users to be exempt from air quality concerns is bad policy. Their real objection to Shultz and Adams’ bill is that it doesn’t allow the DAQ board to do the job the department was established to do.
“This bill prevents our experts at the Division of Air Quality from ever proposing rules to limit hazards from this sector in the future, regardless of what the science says,” according to Ashley Soltysiak, HEAL’s policy director. “It is not unreasonable to ask those who own Traeger’s product to abstain from using their grills for what is likely a couple of dozen days a year,” she said.
Matt Pacenza, HEAL’s Executive Director, said that his organization had been in contact with Traeger’s management, but had agreed to the non-disclosure of those recent discussions. As potent as toxic air can be during inversions, the assembled constituents from Salt Lake and Davis Counties were determined to be just as significant. Those assembled were urged to call the Governor’s office and request their desire that the bill be vetoed in the name of health and public concern about the viability of the DAQ.
Governor Herbert’s office has not indicated his preference on the disposition of the bill and Representative Shultz’ office had not responded for comment at the time of publication.
Editor’s Note: On Wednesday morning, March 22, 2017, the Governor’s office was scheduled to meet with representatives from Traeger Grills about HB 65 prior to the executive execution or veto of the bill. UtahPoliticalCapitol,com had asked Representative Shultz (including House leadership) for comment but received no response. The following audio update from this HEAL UTAH press conference has been added.
PLAY AUDIO HERE: