(EnviroNews Utah) — Salt Lake City, Utah — Senate Bill 87, authored by Senator Gene Davis, was considered by many to be the strongest air pollution bill in the lineup in this year’s legislative session at the Utah Capitol. To the disappointment of many air warriors, that bill went down in flames on the Senate floor on February 23, 2015 following powerful pushback from industrial lobbyists.
Davis’ bill sought to do something only logical in Utah’s nagging dangerous air pollution crisis — remove section 19-2-106 from Utah code. 19-2-106 ties the hands of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and it’s ancillary Division of Air Quality from implementing any regulations that go beyond the minimum federal EPA standards.
Put simply, those standards have not worked for Utah — a place riddled by unique geographical circumstances that frequently result in wintertime temperature inversions where dangerous particulate pollution becomes trapped and compressed on the valley floor for days or weeks on end.
Davis’ bill sought an all out repeal of 19-2-106, but that effort failed. However, Representative Becky Edwards (R) of District 20 authored a bill that seeks to accomplish something similar, although through a different path.
House Bill 226 seeks not to remove the code entirely, but modify the language so that the DAQ can actually implement rules that are more stringent than the EPA standards via a process of scientific review and public comment.
Edwards herself was a supporter of S.B. 87, and admits that H.B. 226 is a “compromise bill.” That was made apparent when she appeared for her presentation in front of the Utah House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee with Stephen Sands II of Kennecott Utah Copper (Utah’s largest air pollution culprit), and an ex-executive of Geneva Steele — a company riddled with air pollution controversies in the 90s.
From the start of Utah’s 2015 legislative session it was made clear that industry (and the DEQ) has supported Edwards bill, and were opposed to Davis’ S.B. 87. Edwards has suggested that an all out repeal of 19-2-106 is not realistic in Utah’s lopsided and pro-industry legislature, and explained that this is the reason why she worked with industry in the crafting of H.B. 226.
Edwards has also suggested that if industry could have it their way, they wouldn’t support H.B. 226 either, but mounting pressure from Utah citizens has brought the air pollution issue to a tipping point — a juncture where thousands of people turn out to protest events at the state capitol demanding lawmakers do something — even if that “something” is not the perfect solution.
EnviroNews USA Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry had the chance to sit down with Representative Becky Edwards in a full feature interview to discuss H.B. 226 at length, and how this piece of legislation could help the state of Utah clean up its nasty, deadly air. The interview can be viewed in the video player at the top of this news story.