Utah senators backtracked quickly Tuesday to pull back a controversial bill to revamp the state’s five environmental boards, thinking it was a different bill.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, hadn’t even had a chance to describe her SB21 before fellow senators advanced it, 26-2, and put it a step closer to sending it to the House.
Dayton then asked to have SB21 recalled and “circled,” or put on hold, so lawmakers could study it before voting on the 186-page measure.
“I want to make sure you have plenty of time to look at it,” she told her colleagues.
SB21 is controversial because it would shrink the advisory boards that help the Department of Environmental Quality’s agencies — the air quality, drinking water, water quality, radiation control and solid and hazardous waste divisions — carry out policies set by the Legislature. The boards also give advice on permits and fines, a duty that would shift to the DEQ director under Dayton’s proposal.
The Orem senator said her bill would streamline the panels and cut their hefty workloads. To accomplish that, an administrative law judge would hear challenges to licenses and fines handed out by the divisions and the executive director would have final say.
The measure, crafted with the help of the Utah Manufacturers Association and the Utah Mining Association over two years, was fast-tracked by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee last fall. Dayton said the proposal is complex and warrants revisions and more public scrutiny before it becomes law.
The Department of Environmental Quality has raised concerns that drafting errors — and there are more than 100 of them — put the state’s authority over federal environmental regulations in jeopardy. DEQ Director Amanda Smith said Tuesday “it’s a timing question” whether the corrections can be made during the 45-day legislative session.
Environmental, health advocacy and good-government groups have objected to the bill because it has had little public scrutiny.
Dayton said proposed changes to the bill are expected to go online by week’s end.