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So far, little interest in environment

Published January 31, 2013 11:28 am

Air quality • No specific legislation to deal with Utah's pervasive pollution.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dozens of environmental bills are in the works at the Utah Capitol, but much of the legislation is no more than a label early in the legislative session.

That's the case with a bill by House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, to reform the state's oversight of radioactive waste at the EnergySolutions Inc. disposal site in Tooele County. It's also the case with requested bills on water quality, wildfire, metals recycling and pesticides.

And one issue that's landed Utah in the national spotlight this winter — unhealthy and ugly spikes of air pollution — isn't the subject of even one bill.

"We're very frustrated that they don't seem very interested in the issue," said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a group that last week called on Gov. Gary Herbert to declare a health emergency because of the pollution. "And we're wondering what it's going to take to change that."

Last fall, a legislative task force weighed northern Utah's winter smog problem as part of a larger study of improving the state's economic development prospects. Meanwhile, during much of the month between Christmas and this week's opening of the 2013 Legislature, mountain basins throughout northern Utah stuck out as having the worst air quality in the nation.

Amanda Smith, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said her agency isn't proposing any bills this year. Meanwhile, she's following a proposed cut to her agency's budget of $238,000 a year.

That funding reduction was originally proposed last year as part of the Legislature's plan to consolidate two DEQ divisions, one overseeing solid and hazardous waste and the other charged with emergency response and cleanup. If the cut is approved this year, a position will be cut from the air-quality division and a financial analyst will be cut from the water-quality office, according to Smith.

"The session is always an exciting time, and DEQ is just trying to be a productive partner with the legislators who are involved in our issues," she said.

When it comes to legislation to help improve air quality, she said, political leaders and the public need to begin working together.

"We need support and we need political support in addressing the problem," Smith said.

One bill that has been introduced involves the chemicals used to fluoridate drinking water.

"It's a bill to help counties manage liability and to provide transparency to the public by disclosing all constituents being added to their fluoridated drinking water," said Rep. Roger Barrus, a Centerville Republican and sponsor of HB72.

Meanwhile, a constituent request is the driver behind Sen. Gene Davis' bill to beef up the information provided by pesticide companies after they treat neighborhood yards. The as-yet-unnumbered bill would require signs including the name of the pesticides used to be posted after commercial treatments.

"I am trying to find a way to do this consumer-friendly," said the Salt Lake City Democrat.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, is proposing a resolution to acknowledge the hard work of fighting wildfires. The requested resolution is a shout-out to firefighters statewide, including the many volunteers who helped deal with the 1,528 wildfires last year that consumed 413,000 acres in Utah.

"We owe them a lot," Briscoe said.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah