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Collaboration and Credibility Keys to Legislative Success

By Scott Baird

With the strike of the gavel last Thursday night at midnight, the 2015 Utah legislative session officially ended, and many of us at DEQ officially returned to a more predictable work schedule.

The last forty-five days have been exciting, exhausting, and everything in between. As I look back over the past month and a half and think about what worked well and what we could do better, two things stand out.

1. Willingness to have an open dialogue and hear all sides of an issue leads to better solutions.

No one has all the answers. We believe that reaching out to ALL interested stakeholders helps our agency understand different points of view on particular issues. This give-and-take results in better policy, more buy-in, and greater likelihood for success. We are committed to working with all our stakeholders and are grateful to the people who came forward to their share ideas and work with us to find solutions.

The willingness to meet and collaborate led to one of the more rewarding moments of this session. I observed environmental advocates and industry representatives working together toward common ground on a specific bill. Their combined power to arrive at a legislative solution from seemingly opposite sides showed me what’s possible when we create opportunities for open dialogue.

2. The work we do every day at DEQ and the excellent reputation of our employees have a direct impact on our ability to move forward legislation that benefits the environment and the people of Utah.

Executive Director Amanda Smith explains the Utah Mapping Partnership

Executive Director Amanda Smith explains the Utah Mapping Partnership

The quality of our work and the way we respond to concerned citizens and the businesses we regulate sow the seeds for legislative success. Time and time again, we heard from legislators that while they may not like some of our environmental regulations, they are grateful that they can work with a local state agency rather than the EPA.

Every day we have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment. Utah citizens, our regulated partners, and members of the legislature have confidence in us because we treat them with respect and maintain the highest levels of professionalism. This doesn’t mean that we will always agree with our stakeholders. But our track record of providing high-quality scientific information combined with excellent customer service helps build their trust and strengthens our credibility.

Now, for those of you that are interested, I’ve included a high-level summary of our budget allocations as well as some of the environmental legislation that passed during the 2015 session.

Budget Adjustment

Every state agency was required to take a two-percent cut in its general fund appropriation. In our case, this reduction came from the Division of Radiation Control. The agency is currently looking for ways to address this budget cut internally.

Budget Allocations

One-time funding to provide support for high-resolution aerial photography, process improvements to the State Geographic Information System (GIS) Database, and support to assert state stewardship through the public lands survey system (PLSS). These mapping improvements will give DEQ and other state agencies an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate and share land-based information.

Ongoing funding for additional attorney general support for air quality issues. This funding will provide the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) with adequate legal review and support to handle the increase in permit appeals and administrative hearings.

Ongoing funding for compliance officers as well as one-time funding for a vehicle to facilitate compliance visits. DAQ recently issued over 250 new permits to oil and gas sources, with over 325 additional new sources in the queue. Current projections show a growth trend of 300-500 new sources per year. This funding will allow the DAQ compliance program to keep up with growing demand for inspections and oversight.

One-time funding for additional research to improve our understanding of the chemistry and meteorology that lead to Utah’s unique air pollution problems.

One-time funding for the Clean Air Retrofit, Replacement, and Off-Road Technology(CARROT) Program. DAQ CARROT grants help individuals, businesses, and local governments reduce emissions from heavy-duty on-road diesel engines, non-road diesel engines, and small non-road engines.

Legislation

HB226 Air Quality Revisions
Allows the Air Quality Board to adopt rules that are different from corresponding federal regulations if they are based on evidence, studies, or other information that relates specifically to conditions in Utah and the type of source involved.

HB396 Solid Fuel Burning Amendments
Prohibits the Division of Air Quality from imposing a seasonal wood-burn ban. The bill also requires the Division to create a public awareness campaign on the effects of wood burning on air quality as well as a program to assist with the conversion of qualified homes to natural gas, propane, wood pellet heating sources, or EPA-certified wood-burning stoves.

SB154 Coal Ash Amendments
Amends the definition of solid waste to now include fly-ash waste, bottom-ash waste, slag waste, and flue-gas emission-control waste generated from the combustion of coal or other fossil fuels.

SB244 Department of Environmental Quality Modifications
Combines the Division of Radiation Control and the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste into a new Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control. This legislation also replaces the two current nine-member boards with a single 12-member board. The consolidation will take place July 1, 2015.

SB248 Local Health Department Amendments
Establishes a committee within the Department that reviews matters affecting DEQ and local health departments.

SB282 Administrative Law Judge Amendments
Improves and streamlines the adjudication of permit review and enforcement proceedings and adjusts the standard of review so it is in line with EPA standards.

Thank you to all of you whose hard work and participation made this a successful legislative session. For a more complete list of environmental legislation introduced during the 2015 session, visit our bill-tracking page. Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas as we begin to prepare for next session — and yes, preparations begin now! Thanks again!

16march2015-scottbairdAs the Director of Legislative and Government affairs, I work with legislators and stakeholders on pending legislation as well as promoting the great work that our Department does. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor’s Office 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, 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.