By Donna Kemp Spangler
Perhaps one of the highlights of the 2016 Legislature for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality was a last minute appropriation of $6 million for a new technical support center for air monitoring, water testing and other needs.
For years, DEQ sought funding for a new building closer to its headquarters in Salt Lake. The current Air Monitoring Center is located in a warehouse DEQ leases in a heavy industrial area of West Valley City. The air monitoring equipment used to measure pollution levels is stored in a building unsuitable for equipment that is sensitive to vibrations, humidity and temperature. The location is also less than ideal for employees who must drive 15 minutes to the building from their offices to analyze the data.
Repeatedly DEQ’s building has been ranked below higher-education construction needs. This year, Gov. Gary Herbert included $6.3 million for the new tech center planned on state property adjacent to DEQ’s office surrounded by other state office buildings, like the Tax Commission, State Library, and Blind Center off 1950 West North Temple. Legislators initially ranked it high on the list, but removed it days before the session, only to resurrect it at the end.
Besides the tech building, lawmakers passed a $1 million appropriation to allow the Division of Air Quality to buy air quality monitors for new stations. Another $250,000 was approved for air pollution education efforts, and $100,000 in air quality research for the Uinta Basin. The Division of Drinking Water also received $1.5 million to help fund a water-use study as recommended in a state audit.
It wasn’t everything the Governor requested in his budget, but it helps. The Clean Air Retrofit and Replacement Technology or CARROT incentive program for businesses and individuals was not funded. Nor was the additional $1 million to replace aging air monitors.
DEQ Executive Director Alan Matheson, along with Deputy Director Brad Johnson and Scott Baird, director of legislative and government affairs, spent the 45-day session meeting with lawmakers, lobbyists, fiscal analysts and others. They, along with Division Directors carefully tracked the bills that impact DEQ as they traveled through committees, to the House and Senate floors, and now before the Governor for his signature.
The bills that successfully passed included Rep. Stephen Handy’s HB87. Once signed into law, the measure will offer grants (up to $2,500), not tax rebates, to people who covert their vehicles to clean-burning fuel as an immediate financial incentive.
Other closely watched legislation included HB250, sponsored by Rep. Ed Redd. The bill, as passed, allows manufacturers to provide low-emission water heaters as part of Utah’s energy code as adopted under HB316.
HB258, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, removes scrap metal recycling from solid and hazardous waste rules. It passed despite concerns from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that passage would be less stringent than the federal law.
“Overall it’s been a good session with good discussions on DEQ issues,” said Baird. “Much of what happens during the session impacts our agency and people’s lives. I encourage the public to become engaged in the issues and contact us to become involved.”
Get involved. Share your concerns. And follow the conversation on social media channels @utahdeq @deqdonna and Facebook. Or visit DEQ’s web page for a comprehensive list of the environmental legislation DEQ was tracking during the session.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at dequtah.blogspot.com. You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna.