Bill allowing tougher air standards in Utah barely advances
Air quality • Industry opposes SB164; says it won’t ‘have any benefit.’
Published: February 11, 2014 10:51PM
Updated: February 11, 2014 11:14PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo The pollution-plagued Salt Lake Valley is obscured by another red air day as the inversion continues on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

A Senate committee on Tuesday narrowly advanced a bill that would enable state regulators to adopt air-quality standards that are tougher than federal thresholds.

Sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, SB164 would repeal a 1989 statute that limits the authority of the Utah Division of Air Quality when it comes to enforcing the federal Clean Air Act.

The 1989 law allows the state to go beyond federal standards only after the DAQ makes a written determination that such standards are “not adequate to protect public health and the environment of the state.”

This burden is so onerous that the process is rarely, if ever, used, according to the bill’s supporters, which include Gov. Gary Herbert.

“Is it going to be industry that is wagging the tail or will we have the flexibility to look at the standards and see if they make sense?” said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. “The checks and balances are in place so that no one can run wild, even a renegade governor if we ever have one.”

Industry representatives argued strongly against Davis’ bill, which the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee endorsed in a 3-2 vote.

“We don’t want to see more stringent rules that cost a lot of money and don’t have any benefit,” James Holtkamp, an attorney for the Utah Manufacturers Association, told the committee last week. “The manufacturers have been asked to do more than the standards require. The bull’s eye is on our back.”

Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, has introduced a competing measure in the House. HB121 would require the Air Quality Board to hold a public hearing before enacting tougher rules. That hearing must find that “the more stringent rule will provide essential added protections to public health or the environment of the state or a particular region of the state.”