DEQ Budget Priorities 2018: Putting Our Values into Action

By Scott Baird

The 2018 Utah Legislature kicks off its 45-day session today, marking the start of an exciting and occasionally hectic time for all of us at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Although we are neutral players in the legislative process, our directors and scientists are available 24/7 to answer questions, provide credible, objective scientific information, and explain the impacts that proposed legislation could have on Utah’s environment.

DEQ’s mission, to safeguard and improve Utah’s air, land, and water through balanced regulation, is reflected in Governor Gary Herbert’s proposed budget, which includes funding for air quality, water quality, and local health departments. These budget priorities also demonstrate our core values of:

  • Exceptional Service
  • Commitment to Employees
  • Credibility and Trust
  • Continuous Improvement

Our budget requests for 2018 show how our values define who we are as an agency. Our values guide our decisions, actions, and funding priorities.

Air Quality Research ($500,000)

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust, Continuous Improvement

Overall, Utah’s air quality has improved in recent years, but the state’s topography, climate, and atmospheric chemistry continue to create unhealthy air conditions during certain times of the year. Scientists and policymakers agree that the state’s unique situation necessitates a targeted approach: local research for local solutions. Utah-specific research helps DEQ identify the most effective and cost-efficient methods for reducing pollution and improving the state’s air quality.

Research projects that would be conducted under the governor’s $500,000 budget request include:

  • The impact of wood-burning on mandatory no-burn days
  • The impact of ammonia emissions from diesel vehicles during winter inversions
  • Improved emission inventories and air-quality modeling (in partnership with the University of Utah)

Current and future research projects help the state develop cost-effective, targeted regulations that improve air quality and avoid a federal “one-size-fits-all” approach to Utah’s unique air-quality challenges.

Additional Personnel in the Division of Air Quality ($350,000)

The Governor’s budget includes personnel funding of $350,000 for three additional positions in areas with backlogs and unmet needs.

State Implementation Plan (SIP) Development

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust

DEQ’s responsibilities for developing State Implementation Plans (SIPs) extend beyond the Serious PM2.5 SIP and the upcoming ozone SIP. The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is also responsible for developing SIPs for other criteria pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM10). Hiring an additional environmental scientist to take on SIP development responsibilities — including the identification and evaluation of potential control strategies — would ensure the timely completion of accurate, approvable SIPs, allowing us to meet important federal standards.

Technical Analysis

Values: Credibility and Trust, Continuous Improvement

Recent modeling and research on air pollution episodes have pointed to ammonia as a larger contributor to the formation of PM2.5 along the Wasatch Front than previously thought. However, scientists still need to identify possible sources of this pollutant. An emissions inventory that accounts for these potential sources of ammonia will allow DAQ to develop, implement, and track the effectiveness of new regulations to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). A new environmental scientist dedicated to identifying the numerous small sources that contribute to the state’s high ammonia levels will improve our understanding of current conditions, giving us the necessary data to create more effective and cost-conscious control strategies for PM2.5.

Stack Testing

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust

Stack testing is a direct measurement of emissions from industrial air-pollution sources. This testing is the only way to quantify actual emissions and verify the design and operation of air-pollution control technologies. These data help DAQ assess the effectiveness of control strategies to meet federal air-pollution standards. Over the past 10 years, stack test requirements have grown in number and complexity; the five full-time employees assigned to perform stack-test audits can’t keep up with the increased workload. An additional stack test auditor will ensure DAQ can keep up with the workload and continue to provide exceptional service to our customers.

Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Response ($305,000)

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust

The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) has identified over two dozen priority waterbodies statewide that are at-risk for excessive algal growth, including toxin-producing harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms pose a health risk to the public and produce a range of adverse economic and ecological impacts to Utah’s waterways. DWQ doesn’t have sufficient resources to monitor this increasing threat. Local health departments (LHDs) depend on DWQ to provide timely water-quality data to make health-advisory decisions, and water treatment facilities don’t currently target their monitoring towards the identification of possible HABs or toxins in their finished or source water. Additional resources will allow DWQ to provide the data needed to better coordinate our efforts with other state agencies and respond more effectively to HABs events. This critical funding would support:

  • Response staff to collect data and conduct pre-screening toxin analysis
  • Resources for LHDs to provide on-shore sampling, post health advisories, and alert the public of water conditions
  • Follow-up sampling to monitor bloom activity
  • Enhanced protection of the public from the health risks from HABs

Local Health Departments ($500,000)

The Governor’s budget also includes an additional $500,000 of ongoing funding for local health departments, with DEQ acting as the pass-through. This additional money would ensure that LHDs could continue to provide critical environmental services in the face of increasing population growth and economic development. General Environmental Quality Services covered under this funding would include:

  • Review and approval of building permits and subdivision plats to ensure adequate wastewater disposal, septic system density, drinking-water source protection
  • Implementation of local air-quality programs
  • Hazardous materials spills response
  • Oversight of solid waste complaints/activities

Our mission is to safeguard the health and well-being of every Utah resident by protecting and improving our state’s air, land, and water. It’s a mission that, along with our values, we take very seriously. We appreciate the opportunity each year to support that mission by participating in the legislative process.

Want to learn more about the 2018 legislative session? Visit the Utah Legislature’s website for a calendar of scheduled hearings and floor votes, bills, committees, and information about your state senator or representative. DEQ keeps a running tally of environmental legislation throughout the session; check for daily updates on our legislative webpage. You can also create your own personalized list using the legislative bill tracker.

As the Deputy Director over Policy, Planning and Operational Improvement, I enjoy working with legislators, stakeholders and our employees in finding ways to improve how we do our work. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor’s Offices in Utah and Washington and with Deloitte Consulting in D.C., where I helped state and federal agencies identify and implement opportunities to improve. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Brigham Young University and my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) and JD degrees from Syracuse University. I LOVE to get outdoors and enjoy SKIING, running, hiking, backpacking, camping, working in the yard, fixing up our broken-down house, and anything else I can convince my wife and four daughters to do with me…oh yeah, and I really like ice cream!