2020 Utah Legislature Set to Address Utah’s Air, Land and Water

By Scott Baird

This morning marks the start of another legislative session. During the next 45 days, lawmakers from across Utah will convene to change existing laws, pass new laws and set the state’s budget for the fiscal year starting in July.

The first step in this exercise in local democracy is the governor’s budget proposal. After much debate and many revisions, the budget will eventually work its way through the House and the Senate before being signed into law. Inside the budget are appropriations that fund the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and provide money to protect our vital natural resource—air, land and water.

Utah DEQ is a neutral player in this legislative process. Although the agency doesn’t take a position on any piece of legislation, its directors and scientists are available 24/7 to answer questions, provide credible, scientific information, and explain the impacts of proposed legislation.

After all, our mission is to safeguard and improve Utah’s air, land, and water through balanced regulation.

Below are highlights of three priority appropriations from the coming year’s budget.

Air Quality

During the session, lawmakers and regulators will continue to work toward Gov. Gary Herbert’s ambitious goal of cutting per capita emissions by 25% before 2026. To meet this goal, the governor’s budget includes $100 million for specific and scalable projects that will improve Utah’s air quality. $34 million would go toward public transit and $66 million toward electric vehicle infrastructure. This will include charging stations for electric cars.

Water Quality

Impaired waters—ones that do not meet water quality standards for particular pollutants, nutrients or bacteria—can lead to water quality issues including harmful algal blooms, compromised fisheries, and threatened drinking water sources. There are 261 impaired bodies of water in Utah. These waters are largely affected by private agricultural land use.

The Governor is recommending $3 million for DEQ’s Division of Water Quality to incentivize agricultural producers to adopt nutrient pollution plans that will improve water quality. This new comprehensive approach promises to increase the acres enrolled in nutrient management plans from roughly 8,000 acres (1%) to 100,000 acres (10%).

This appropriation will fund additional agricultural infrastructure grants, increase staff to develop more nutrient management plans, and add additional regulatory oversight on animal feeding operations.

Drinking Water

The Governor has asked for $2.5 million in ongoing funds to aid DEQ’s Division of Drinking Water in its SUCCESS efforts to move toward a more sustainable funding mechanism. The new mechanism will rely less on state and federal resources and more on user fees to administer drinking water inspection, enforcement, certification, and permitting. This more sustainable approach requires investment to enhance the division’s water system inspection program and upgrade its permitting process with the goal of fulfilling the department’s regulatory function with consistent and comprehensive annual site inspections of all 400 required sites. This funding also provides technical assistance to small-scale water systems that struggle to operate safely and efficiently.

As we work through the legislative session, we invite you to participate with us. You can follow environmental-related bills at our bill tracking webpage. We welcome your input and feedback. We hope to see you up on the hill as we present in committee meetings and testify on bills.

As Executive Director, 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!