(EnviroNews Utah) — Salt Lake City, Utah — As the Utah legislative season moved toward a final curtain (by law, the lawmaking ends on the 45th day at midnight), the big decisions left to be made fell into categories including those that would need money to enact and those which were purely policy definitions.
Some were decided during course of business during the session although many have little or no bearing on state spending. The policy decisions, given a GOP supermajority in the state, can still be a long time in arriving. So, it was with the changes being wrought within the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), that the public hue and cry demanding better air was addressed.
Representative Becky Edwards (R-Davis County), and her constituents live in one of Northern Utah’s seven “non-attainment” counties where for several days per year, children in her and adjoining districts are kept indoors during school recess and expectant mothers contemplate moving somewhere else.
Edwards sponsored two of Utah’s clean air bills – H.B. 226 and H.B. 229. She spoke to EnviroNews soon after learning that her measures successfully made their way through both of Utah’s legislative bodies for approval.
H.B. 226 dealt with the state’s Air Quality Board and its passage allows for rule making and solutions uniquely suited for conditions prevailing on northern Utah’s Wasatch Front. In this geography and topology, the entire airshed often gets trapped in meteorological and temperature inversions creating a problem rivaling Beijing or Mexico City.
The problem has driven many ordinary citizens to become activists, and over the past three years, Edwards’ solutions have been steadily gaining support. She met with some resistance in her State’s Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee when Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab), who lives in and represents a rural district, questioned why the language of H.B. 226 needed to say that the state would be authorized to create Air Quality rules and/or standards that “are more stringent than” those by the EPA.
Edwards responded with a sports analogy and explained that prior to her bill, the state could only run one play to advance the ball towards the goal. “With this bill,” she told the committee on Feb. 13, 2015, we have many more plays to run on air quality matters.” In the end, the bill was written to allow for rules, standards and measures that are “different” than those originating with the EPA. “Different than,” is necessary, said Edwards, for Utah to arrive at environmental quality solutions that meet the state’s unique needs.
Her second bill now allows for the re-authorization of the state’s Air Quality Board’s authority and composition, and has met with much criticism for being too much of a compromise for some hard line environmentalists.
Regardless of that subjectivity, Utah’s elected and appointed officials insist the air quality is improving. Advocates insist with equal or greater emphasis that there is still much to be done to improve Utah’ air quality. “It’s just that it’s not a priority on beautiful days,” says Erin Mendenhall, (D-Salt Lake City) a serious air quality advocate and Salt Lake City council member.
When asked, the state’s Senate leadership pointed out that the air quality in Utah is better than it’s been in “more than 50 years” — a talking point that has left many Utahans shaking their heads in disbelief at the attempted justification by some lawmakers for further inaction.
She joined EnviroNews at the Utah Capitol during a break in the presentation and voting action on March 11, 2015.