By Donna Kemp Spangler
Amanda Smith has, over the past six years as DEQ executive director, paved the way toward cleaner air, improved transparency, and greater government efficiency. She’s shouldered many of Utah’s most challenging and controversial environmental issues like refinery expansions, oil spill cleanups, and a yet-to-be decided plan on depleted uranium disposal at EnergySolutions’ facility in Clive, Utah.
She set a high standard, and we will miss her leadership.
Last month, Gov. Gary Herbert passed the baton to his environmental adviser Alan Matheson, who is unlikely to veer dramatically from the governor’s agenda of recent years. But he is expected to take the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to new heights.
For many of us at DEQ who have worked with Matheson over the years, it’s an exciting time. We will look to him to lead us through some of the most complicated environmental issues to ever face the state.
He comes with an impressive portfolio:
- He played an important role in the final State Implementation Plan to meet the federal air standards for wintertime particulate pollution (PM 2.5).
- He brought together clean air activists to thoroughly consider their pollution-cutting ideas and report back to them findings and recommendations.
- The full investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by Stericycle was done under his watchful eye.
- Matheson, along with Smith, is a founding member of the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) board that provides grants to help businesses and community groups improve air quality.
Matheson brings a wealth of experience to the job. Like Smith, he is an environmental attorney. He was a partner in a Phoenix law firm and worked for the conservation organization Trout Unlimited. He clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, and he understands complex legal issues and is well acquainted with federal and state laws.
He understands the environmental permitting process, having worked as an attorney and environmental policy adviser for Arizona’s largest electric utility. He was also Envision Utah’s executive director, earning praise for his ability to listen to all perspectives and develop meaningful plans for Utah’s future.
Matheson hopes to take a thoughtful approach to the challenging issues and decisions ahead. And there are many, from the storage of depleted uranium in Clive to the new ozone standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I have a lot to learn,” he said during a May 12 interview on the Salt Lake Tribune’s Trib Talk. “I have to go in and rely on the professional staff, but I’m willing listen and make sure we’re running an organization that is effective and efficient, and that we make decisions based on law, good science, and data.”
The Senate is expected to act on his appointment this month. In the meantime, Matheson is running at full speed with a packed schedule that leaves little time for fishing or floating.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post.
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