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Air Bills Progress After Dust-up Over Wood-Burning Proposal

Judy Fahys/KUER
Lawmakers are progressing on air-quality legislation and funding proposals halfway through the 2015 General Session.

Legislation to clean up Utah’s air is progressing in the State Capitol as the second half of the 2015 General Session begins.

Lawmakers seem wary about any air quality initiatives after fielding angry complaints from constituents about a proposal to ban wood-burning all winter. Their caution bubbled up in a House committee hearing last week on a bill to scrap a state rule that generally means Utah air-quality controls cannot be different from federal ones.

“I just – doesn’t make sense to me,” said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. “You’ll have to explain that to me. I still don’t get it.”

House Bill 226 would let regulators apply Utah-specific solutions to the state’s unique air-pollution problems. Sponsoring Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, wants lawmakers to ease what’s often called the “no-more-stringent standard,” so state regulators have more flexibility.

During the hearing, she used a football analogy to explain how current state law effectively lets the Environmental Protection Agency dictate all of the rules.

“What if, in addition to the EPA saying where those goal posts were going to be, they also told you every play in your play book, every single play,” she said. “You had to run it up the middle every single time you had the ball. You have a great wide receiver. You want to throw the ball to him every now and then. Nope, can’t do it. You’ve got a tight end that runs 4-40. Can’t do it. Can’t throw to him. Nope. Outside. That’s different. That’s considered more stringent.”

“Now I get it,” said Noel. “Thank you. Now I get it.”

Lawmakers have 25 air quality bills and funding requests. Just over half have advanced so far, including Edwards’ bill, which won unanimous committee support.

Rep. Patrice Arent, a Millcreek Democrat and founder of the Legislature’s Clean Air Caucus, is neither optimistic nor discouraged at the midway point.

“It’s just too early. We just have a long ways to go and it’s early in the session.”

Her wait-and-see approach is understandable. The fate of Edwards’ bill last year might suggest why. After it passed the full House, it died in the Senate.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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