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Legislative Session Helps Us All Breathe a Little Easier

By Scott Baird

Air Monitoring Center Section manager Bo Call checks DEQ monitoring equipment

The whirlwind of Utah’s 45 day legislative session is over, the dust has settled,  and we at the Department of Environmental Quality want to thank you for helping this session to be a success. The appropriations and legislation approved in this session will ensure that the Department can continue its ongoing work to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the people of Utah.

Appropriations

The governor’s budget included key budget requests for air-monitoring equipment, air-quality research, harmful algal bloom (HAB) response, a water-use study, and a full-time spill coordinator. We are pleased that the legislature approved our base operating budget and several of the Governor’s priority funding requests.

Air-Monitoring Equipment

Funding for new air monitoring topped the list, with $1.4 million appropriated to upgrade and update equipment that was long past its useful life and to meet federal requirements for a new air monitor in Iron County. This year’s appropriation was part of a two-year effort to ensure our air-monitoring system provides citizens with accurate, real-time information about air-quality conditions. Big thanks to all of you who showed your support and reached out to your legislators to help them understand the critical need for the funding. You played an important role in helping us secure the money to upgrade our monitoring system.

Air-Quality Research

We received $200,000 to continue our successful Storage Tank Emissions Pilot Project (STEPP) in the Uinta Basin. The STEPP project uses infrared (IR) cameras to spot leaks in storage tanks at oil and gas operations so operators can fix to the leaky hatches. Identifying and fixing leaks saves product and improves air quality in the Basin.

DEQ’s spill coordinator ensured that the agency responded quickly and efficiently to the Tibble Fork sediment release

Spill Coordinator

As our population grows, oil and chemical spills occur more frequently. The legislature recognized this threat to the state’s water quality and authorized funding for a full-time spill coordinator who can respond to these spills quickly and efficiently.

Legislation

Environmental bills and resolutions this session addressed a wide range of issues, including air quality, water quality, and waste fees.

HB183 Emissions Settlements Amendments

Litigation over Volkswagen’s use of a “defeat device” to cheat on emission tests led to a court settlement that awarded compensation to affected states, including Utah. We received $35 million from the settlement to reduce diesel emissions. This bill set up the legal infrastructure for the state to receive these funds and invest them in ways that directly improve air quality in Utah. Rep. Steve Handy sponsored HCR5, a companion resolution, to support the use of some of these funds to replace dirty-diesel school buses with clean-fuel buses.

HB392 Air Quality Policy Advisory Board

Lawmakers consider numerous air-quality bills each session but aren’t always sure which ones will have the greatest impact on the state’s air-quality problems. The new Air Quality Policy Advisory Board will examine proposed legislation and identify bills that best address air-quality issues. We anticipate that this new board will work in partnership with DEQ and the Air Quality Board to put forward policies that improve Utah’s air quality.

HCR15 Concurrent Resolution on Sustainable Management of Utah’s Water Quality

This resolution reinforces our commitment to use sound science to find solutions to water-quality issues and partner with our stakeholders to solve water-quality problems.

HCR18 Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Utahns to Consider the Smog Rating When Purchasing a Vehicle

You may not know that you can make a real difference in our air quality by buying a car with a good smog rating. This concurrent resolution encourages residents to look for the vehicle’s smog rating on the car window and consider purchasing a vehicle with a smog rating of ‘8” or above. These cleaner vehicles will help reduce driving-related emissions.

HCR26 Concurrent Resolution Urging Restoration of Utah Lake

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) last summer were a stark reminder of the many environmental challenges facing Utah Lake. This resolution urges comprehensive solutions for restoring the lake, ensuring recreational opportunities, and improving use of the lake for Utah citizens.

Harmful algal bloom on Utah Lake

SB197 Refinery Sales and Use Tax Exemption Amendments

This legislation offers refineries a $1.8 million sales-tax exemption on the purchase of equipment to produce low-sulfur Tier-3 fuels. Use of Tier 3 fuels will help reduce emissions and improve Utah’s air quality.

HB115 Solid Waste Revisions

This bill requires a change to the solid waste disposal fee structure by 2018. We’ll be reaching out to stakeholders for input and ideas on appropriate methods for assessing waste fees.

We are continually encouraged by the high level of public involvement and support for clean air, land, and water and its growing importance for people across the state. It is clear that what happens during the legislative session doesn’t just impact our agency, but all of us — in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the places we recreate, the land we use for our homes and businesses, and the economy that supports our state.

We will continue to work hard to safeguard and improve our air, land, and water for all Utahns and seek your input and participation as we move forward.  Please participate with us and share your questions, concerns, or ideas.

Check out our bill tracking webpage for a look at the environmental legislation introduced during the 2017 legislative session. Visit the Utah Legislature website for a complete list of the bills that were passed, their effective date, and the Governor’s action (signed or not). We hope to see you on Capitol Hill during monthly interim sessions and the 2018 legislative session. Your voice matters!

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!