By Craig Anderson, Guest Blogger
DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.
What do attorneys do for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)? What is our role? What are our successes? I will answer these questions and explain a little more about the many things we do for DEQ.
The Environment Section is made up of a team of ten attorneys, a paralegal, and a legal secretary. We are an interesting and diverse group. Several attorneys have represented the agency for many years and have in-depth subject-matter expertise and knowledge.
DEQ is our client. As its counsel, we advise DEQ and litigate on its behalf. We are honored to be a part of DEQ’s mission “to safeguard human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment.” We support DEQ by:
- Assisting with implementation of environmental regulations
- Advising on the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of permits issued to regulated facilities
- Providing legal support for rulemaking and record requests as well as subpoenas and Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests
- Representing DEQ in administrative hearings, lawsuits, and appeals before federal and state courts
- Reviewing legislation affecting DEQ
We work closely with DEQ on matters involving air quality, water quality, waste management and radiation control, drinking water, and environmental remediation. Here are a few of our recent legal successes.
Uinta Basin Ozone Designation
In June 2015, DEQ received a favorable verdict from the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia in Mississippi Commission v. EPA. The opinion considered the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) designation of the Uinta Basin as “unclassifiable” for ozone. EPA designates an area as “unclassifiable” when it lacks air quality data. Ultimately, EPA’s area designations determine the regulatory scheme for the states to meet or preserve the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)https://www3.epa.gov/air/criteria.html.
When the EPA designated the Uinta Basin designation as “unclassifiable” in 2013, the agency had regulatory air-quality data collected by DEQ in the Basin for 2011 and 2012. EPA had private monitoring data for 2013, but the data were not verified or audited by DEQ. In EPA’s opinion, the Basin was “unclassifiable” because it did not have reliable, quality-assured data for three consecutive years. WildEarth Guardians challenged EPA’s designation. Utah intervened in the case to support EPA. Connie Nakahara from our office represented DEQ in this lawsuit, which resulted in a favorable decision for the state. The court ruled that “EPA reasonably declined to rely on data that it considered of insufficient quality for designation purposes.”
Regional Haze State Implementation Plan
Regional haze is air pollution that reduces visibility in national parks and scenic areas. This type of air pollution can be transported long distances. The Clean Air Act directs the states to develop state implementation plans (SIPs) to reduce regional haze. EPA then reviews and approves or disapproves these state plans.
In her May 11, 2015, blog post Utah Clears the Skies over National Parks, DEQ environmental scientist Colleen Delaney described DEQ’s efforts to develop Utah’s State Implementation Plan for Regional Haze (RH SIP) and get it approved by EPA. Utah submitted its RH SIP to EPA for review in June 2015.
Several months before, environmental groups sued EPA for not taking timely action on Utah’s Regional Haze SIP and asked the federal court to impose a deadline on EPA to promulgate a federal implementation plan (FIP) instead. We have successfully intervened in these lawsuits to protect Utah’s interest in the recently submitted RH SIP that took many years to develop. On July 29, the federal district court granted our motion, allowing Utah to participate. Christian Stephens and Marina Thomas are representing DEQ in this litigation.
Chevron Pipeline Release into Willard Bay
Melissa Hubbell, another attorney in our section, successfully assisted DEQ in negotiations with Chevron over its diesel pipeline spill into Willard Bay. The negotiations resulted in the cleanup of the release, restoration of a campground and boat ramp, supplemental environmental projects, and a multi-million dollar penalty. The value of the settlement exceeded the amount that would have been recovered if the matter had been litigated.
We enjoy working with the scientists and engineers at DEQ and are glad that we can support them in their efforts to protect Utah’s environment.
Want to learn more about the Environment Section of the Utah Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office? Visit the AG’s official website, where you can find information on some of our other major cases and projects, including depleted uranium disposal, the Stericycle settlement agreement, and our ongoing work on SIP development. We are always happy to hear from DEQ and its staff. Feel free to contact us any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am the Division Chief of the Environment & Health Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office. We are housed on the second floor of the multi-agency office building at 195 North 1950 West. I have practiced law in Salt Lake City for thirty-eight years. I am an active member of the American Bar Association and other professional associations. I travel frequently to attend conferences. My other interests include history, photography, classical music, and jazz.