Let the 2015 Legislative Session Begin

By Brad T. Johnson and Scott Baird

Today marks the start of the 2015 Utah Legislature—the 45 days when Utah’s 75 representatives and 29 senators converge on the State Capitol to enact new state laws.

It’s a busy time for all involved. But it’s also an exciting time for those of us at the Department of Environmental Quality because it’s a chance for us to be part of the democratic process. We expect that there will be more than a dozen bills filed during the session that either directly or indirectly affect Utah’s environment.

Legislation has already been introduced that focuses on ways to improve air quality, and more bills will be filed as the session gets underway. We’ve already seen a few bills that address other environmental issues, but it seems that air quality is first and foremost on lawmakers’ minds.

Here’s a preview of the environmental bills we know about so far.

Air Quality

We know that a number of bills for improving Utah’s air quality will be going before lawmakers this session. Representative Steve Handy has introduced two air quality bills that would provide funding for clean fuel vehicles. Representative Patrice Arent, a champion of clean air legislation, has already filed one bill and promises more filings as the session gets underway. Representative Rebecca Edwards will be introducing legislation to allow the Division of Air Quality to enact regulations that are stronger than federal regulations, and Senator Gene Davis has already submitted a similar bill in the Senate.
Below is a list of the bills that were filed at the start of the session:

  • HB15 would authorize DEQ to make grants from the Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Fund to an individual who installs conversion equipment on a motor vehicle.
  • HB49 would provide grants to replace school buses with alternative fuel vehicles and provide fueling and maintenance infrastructure for these cleaner buses.
  • HB110 would suspend a vehicle’s registration for failing to meet emission standards.
  • SB69 would ensure that at least half of the vehicles in government motor pools use alternate-fuel or high-efficiency vehicles.
  • SB87 would repeal provisions prohibiting the Division of Air Quality from adopting rules that are more stringent than corresponding federal regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Other Environmental Legislation

While air quality will be a big topic during the session, other bills have been introduced that address water quality, hazardous waste, and low-level radioactive waste disposal.

  • HB31 would increase the civil penalties for violating provisions of the Public Utilities Code regarding the intrastate transport of natural gas.
  • HB78 would allow Radiation Control to grant a generator access permit to radioactive waste generators whose handling, packaging, or transport of waste are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or an agreement state.
  • HB84 would ensure that lead-acid batteries are properly handled by certified recyclers.
  • SB25 would reauthorize the Resource Development Coordinating Committee, the clearinghouse for state agency comments on environmental issues.

We know there will be other legislation introduced during the session related to the environment. For example, one proposed bill would merge our Division of Radiation Control with our Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste to enhance operational efficiencies.

For the first time, DEQ has added a legislative liaison to assist Executive Director Amanda Smith during the legislative session. Our liaison will help us connect with lawmakers and develop important working relationships with them.

Our job during the legislative session is to provide lawmakers and the public with accurate information of the potential impacts, intended or unintended, of proposed laws. We are committed to keeping everyone— lawmakers, the Governor’s Office, DEQ employees, and the public— informed throughout the 2015 session.

Want to know more? Check out our bill tracking page for the latest information about environmental bills before the 2015 legislature. You can also visit the Utah Legislature website, search for legislation affecting the environment, and sign up for the bill tracking service offered by the legislature. You will automatically receive updates on the legislation you are tracking, including where they are in the process and any changes made to bill language.

Brad: After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Geology from Brigham Young University in 1983, I found employment with the Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste in the Utah Department of Health. I have worked in various positions in the agency since that time, and I have been the Deputy Director since 2009. The work we do at DEQ is frequently challenging and always interesting, and I thoroughly enjoy my job. When I’m not at work I enjoy doing about anything outdoors. I particularly enjoy hiking and running races with my wife Annette, five children, and their significant others.

Scott: As 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.