Editorial: Herbert should veto wood-cooking bill

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 03:34 pm

House Bill 65 is, in many ways, Utah politics in microcosm.

If approved, HB65 would prohibit any regulation of wood burning if its purpose is to cook food. It would apply to residents and to restaurants, meaning that, even on "red" days when children and the elderly are threatened by particulate pollution, there could be no limits put on smokers and grillers.

There are hundreds of thousands of sources of air pollution in the valley, and people cooking with smoke probably only number in the hundreds. But they can be among the heaviest producers. If you live near a wood-fired restaurant, it can affect your health even if you never venture in for a rack of ribs. It is, in a very real sense, second-hand smoke.

And if this was about lighting up a cigarette, there would be no question about whether the state has an interest in regulating it. But that apparently doesn't apply when there's basting with that smoking.

"I feel people have a right to backyard barbecue," says the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

But right now, there is no arm of government keeping Utahns from their smoky savoriness. While the state does encourage voluntary reductions on bad-air days, current regulation allows both residents and restaurants to cook on wood fires any day. This bill would require that no state or local entity could ever introduce such regulation, no matter how bad the air gets.

So why is this even coming up? Because the people behind this bill are in the business of making cooking grills. Utah-based Traeger Pellet Grills is a market leader in wood-pellet cooking, and its headquarters is in Sugar House.

And not only is the state apparently willing to go to bat for a Utah business, we've even got a stake in their success. Traeger moved here from Portland, Ore., two years ago after receiving tax incentives from the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

So we have incentivized a business to bring its operations to Utah, and now that business has successfully lobbied against air-pollution regulation. Regardless of what one might think of protecting lungs, even from a pure economic-development point of view this makes no sense. Air quality is often a factor in discouraging businesses to come here.

To be sure, making and selling barbecue grills is a fine business, and we'll go on record as saying grilled foods are delicious.

But does the right to grill supersede the right to breathe? Or, more to the point, do we want to keep the people in charge of our environmental health from protecting our environmental health?

Perhaps not surprisingly, this bill passed comfortably in both houses and now only requires the governor's signature to become law. The state air quality board is recommending he veto it. The governor has been here before. Two years ago he vetoed a bill that would have relaxed regulation on all wood burning.

This bill only makes sense in the haze on Capitol Hill. The governor should throw a blanket on it.