By Donna Kemp Spangler
Protecting Utah’s environment for the better usually happens incrementally. But change is happening, and it is happening faster than ever before, thanks to a Utah public that has become more engaged, a Utah Legislature that has prioritized funding to make it happen, and the dedicated employees at the Department of Environmental Quality who have continued to up their game.
Here are a few highlights from 2014:
Winter of Discontent: Utah’s Air
This winter was a wake-up call for many Utahns—one of the worst inversions in recent Utah history trapped pollution along the Wasatch Front and prompted thousands of clean air activists to rally at the Capitol. The Utah Legislature took notice, passing bills and providing funding for air quality research and education therefore protecting Utah’s environment. DEQ will highlight the results of this research in the coming year.
This past year, the Division of Water Quality passed a new rule to reduce phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants. This nutrient pollution strategy is part of a larger statewide nutrient reduction plan to reduce excess nutrients in Utah waterways.
DEQ has always looked for ways to improve efficiencies in its permitting and planning process, all with an eye towards better protecting Utah’s environment. In 2014, DEQ achieved considerable efficiencies through the Governor’s SUCCESS Framework, a statewide process that our agency used to implement measurable improvements across divisions. We featured a number of our projects in earlier blogs.
- Water Quality successfully negotiated a $5.35 million Settlement Agreement with Chevron Pipe Line Company for a 27,500-gallon diesel fuel spill at Willard Bay State Park in March 2013. Part of the settlement included mitigation projects at Willard Bay and water quality improvement projects at other waterways in Utah.
- Environmental Response & Remediation negotiated a $2 million settlement with Conoco Phillips to resolve lawsuits against the oil company for payments received from Utah’s Petroleum Storage Tank Trust Fund that Conoco’s private insurance had already covered for cleanup costs from leaking underground storage tanks at their facilities.
- As part of a $2.3 million Settlement Agreement, Air Quality put in motion a plan for the closure and relocation of the Stericycle medical waste incinerator in North Salt Lake in three years.
In April, DEQ launched weekly blogs to better connect with the community. Our first series, the “12 Days of Earth Day,” featured daily blogs leading up to Earth Day and a kid-filled YouTube video. Each week since, our employees have written blogs on different subjects to give the public a personal look at some of the issues they encounter on a daily basis at DEQ.
We are using more multimedia platforms like YouTube to cover complicated and controversial topics. For example, we produced a video this fall about DEQ’s review of Energy Solutions’ application to accept depleted uranium at its Clive facility, and we plan to incorporate more video clips in our blogs and Facebook posts next year.
My staff and I are committed to improving the ways we keep the public informed on important environmental issues. I invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter @utahdeq, and our website. Our office provides the public with an overview of agency successes and challenges in our annual State Report on the Environment. Look for more information about this year’s report in our December 29th blog post.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna.