Senate committee OKs bill that would monitor environmental impacts of the inland port development planned for Salt Lake City

A bill that would direct the state Department of Environmental Quality to establish baseline environmental conditions in the inland port area in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area — and to monitor any changes as a result of the development — gained support from a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, looks to monitor impacts on air quality, including impacts associated with emissions; on water quality, including those associated with stormwater runoff; and of increases in the level of sound and light.

“It really is an opportunity to make sure we’re collecting data, which allows us to have evidence-based, data-driven policies moving forward” and an increased sense of transparency, Escamilla said Tuesday during the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee hearing on the bill.

SB144, which passed through committee with a 4-3 vote, calls on the Department of Environmental Quality to create and implement a sampling and analysis plan that would characterize the baseline conditions in the inland port area and to establish sensor systems and facilities to store and analyze real-time data. That information would then be shared on the department’s website and provided at least annually to the Inland Port Authority Board and the Legislative Management Committee.

Without an environmental impact study — which is currently in the works — it’s hard to estimate what, exactly, the effects could be of the planned 20,000-acre distribution hub, which is expected to bring increased rail, truck and air traffic, along with tailpipe emissions.

But environmental advocates have pointed out that, even without the port, the state has struggled to meet federal limits for ozone, an airborne pollutant that is particularly harmful to children. And it will likely miss a critical 2019 federal deadline for meeting air-quality standards.

The Salt Lake City School District has also raised concerns about the potential impacts from the port on its students as a result of worsened air quality.

“To me, it’s important that we move forward with a baseline as we already start construction, for example, on the state prison and many other things are moving forward, which is exciting,” said Escamilla, who represents portions of the district that will see the most impacts from development. “I’m just here offering an opportunity to be responsible community players on something so big as the inland port and making sure we can move forward.”

Enactment of the bill could cost the Department of Environmental Quality nearly $518,000 in 2020 and just over $40,000 in 2021 for monitoring costs, according to fiscal analysts.

“There is a cost involved,” said Alan Matheson, the executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “We’d need the monitors themselves and be able to maintain them over time and there are some challenges with having power out there to the particular monitors. But as we go through a monitoring plan we believe we could identify the right locations for various monitors, explore where power is now and other infrastructure and can make this work if the bill passes.”

The costs associated with the bill caused concern for at least one lawmaker. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, ultimately supported the bill but said he’d rather see the money spent supporting development of the port in other parts of the state, like Carbon County.

“We already know the air is bad,” he said. “I don’t see spending $500,000 just to prove a point, because everybody knows it. I’ve heard it, I watch TV, too, and I hear it all the time. But I would like to see it down in our area where we’re still in containment, out of containment or whatever, and so I’d just love to see that $500,000 go down there where it could actually maybe put in a pipeline or something like that.”

Escamilla, a member of the executive appropriations committee, said she understands it could be difficult to get the money she needs but said this is her “No. 1 priority bill” and that she would work hard to get the funding.

Salt Lake City Council Vice Chair James Rogers, who also serves as the vice chair for the Inland Port Authority Board, spoke in support of the bill on Tuesday, noting that the major concern from community members has been the port’s possible impacts on air quality.

“We know that it is going to be impactful,” he said of the inland port, noting that air-quality monitoring will also be part of the business plan that will outline the way the area will develop. “If we have a true way to monitor it, we can actually have ways to negate that and mitigate those impacts.”

SB144 will now move forward for consideration by the full Senate.