By Paul Harding
The Utah Department of Environmental (DEQ) strives to provide exceptional service in all we do, but this is especially true in the areas of environmental permitting and inspection. Part of that commitment to exceptional service is responding to concerns or complaints from the public and businesses. That’s where I come in: in addition to my other duties in business assistance, I serve as the DEQ Ombudsman.
DEQ administers state and federal environmental laws relating to air quality, surface water and groundwater quality, drinking water, solid and hazardous waste management, radiation control, and underground storage tanks. These laws require us to issue environmental permits to businesses, local governments, and state and federal facilities to help limit pollution and improve the quality of our air, land and water while balancing economic development. Our scientists and engineers inspect permitted facilities or operations to ensure that regulations are followed and permit conditions are met. DEQ issues thousands of environmental permits and performs a comparable number of inspections each year.
The Ombudsman actively engages the regulated public to assure these services are administered both professionally and fairly. As the DEQ Ombudsman, I receive and investigate complaints made by citizens on potential abuses of discretion or arbitrary or capricious acts of the agency. These complaints could range from the agency failing to issue a permit in a timely manner, failing to enforce a permit or regulation, or an employee failing to act properly during an inspection or site visit. From a small business perspective, an owner may feel that the agency failed to take into account special problems or issues that a small business may have. The Ombudsman’s goal is to be as impartial and neutral as possible in determining whether the agency or the individual’s actions were fair and reasonable, then work to ensure an equitable resolution.
The Ombudsman’s Office recently developed a survey to collect feedback on how our agency is doing. Participation is voluntary and answers are anonymous unless individuals choose to share contact information with me. The intent is to measure professionalism and fairness as well as the effectiveness of our programs. The survey is not intended to measure any sort of frustration with regulations and requirements. It is hoped that the survey will provide us with the metrics we need to identify areas of concern and opportunities for improvement as well as recognize where we approach or meet our goal of exceptional service.
If you have had an interaction with Utah DEQ recently and are interested in helping us improve our programs, please take a few minutes to complete our survey. You should be able to complete the first page of the survey within a few minutes. You are welcome to submit your responses and stop there. However, if you have recently been inspected or been through a permitting process with UDEQ, we hope you will take a few more minutes and answer additional questions to give us a better understanding of those interactions.
If you have comments, concerns or questions and would like to contact me directly, please do so at 801-536-4108 or DEQOmbudsman@utah.gov. I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you will work with us to continue to improve our programs and services.
I am a Utah native, and I graduated from BYU with a degree in geology. I have had the privilege of serving the people of Utah for the last 23 years as an environmental scientist for the Utah Department of Environmental (DEQ). I spent my first 17 years as an inspector in the Underground Storage Tank Program. Just over six years ago, I accepted a position in Business Assistance, working in the Office of the Executive Director. I work with businesses in a number of capacities for DEQ, including as the Ombudsman. I’m part of the DEQ Ultimate gang who play Ultimate Frisbee for exercise at lunch. I live in Salt Lake with my husband, Brett, and our three dogs Sarge, Frankie and Bernie.