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Bid to regulate Utah’s bromine emissions gets scaled back to a study in committee

A plume from the U.S. Magnesium refinery as seen during an NOAA research flight on Jan. 27, 2017. The Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front are in the background.
J. Clark
A plume from the U.S. Magnesium refinery as seen during an NOAA research flight on Jan. 27, 2017. The Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front are in the background.

A pared-down version of an ambitious bill to tackle Utah’s air quality survived a Feb. 22 committee hearing.

Democratic Rep. Andrew Stoddard’s HB220 was originally introduced as a way to cut emissions in half along the Wasatch Front over the next seven years. It targeted things like vehicle emissions and wood-burning furnaces.

After meeting with legislative leaders, the bill was scaled down and now exclusively focuses on studying the impact bromine emissions have on air quality.

A January study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found a single company, U.S. Magnesium, could be responsible for up to 25% of the pollution that contributes to winter smog along the Wasatch Front. Bromine emissions were found to be a major factor contributing to the smog.

After the study was published, Stoddard said he saw an opportunity to make an impact, but pushback from industry representatives nearly ended the bill’s chances.

I had previously talked to all the committee members on this bill and knew there were some concerns. And then last night I got a call from one of the committee members saying that there were some lobbyists trying to kill it. I didn't hear from the lobbyists, but apparently, the mining and gas industries were having issues with it,” he said.

The bill was further scaled back in committee after some Republicans wondered why Utah should consider regulating bromine in the air when the Environmental Protection Agency does not. The bill would only conduct a study and does not include any specific pollution reduction goals. But it also widens the scope of the study to include more than just a single pollutant.

“I don't want to just go after bromine,” said Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, while proposing amendments. “I think we should study all halogens, and I'd like a good study of what's going on in the Salt Lake so that we can understand how this is affecting our air quality.”

The amended version of the bill passed unanimously in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee. Despite cuts to his legislation, Stoddard is encouraged that lawmakers seem open to doing something to address air quality along the Wasatch Front.

“You know, it's something,” he said. “And if this is what we need to do to get the data to make more meaningful change and actually get some progress, that's great … I would have loved it to go further. I mean, you can tell from my original bill that I'd love to go all the way, but I'm good with where it's at.”

But not all stakeholders are happy with how much has been trimmed from the initial bill.

“I think legislation is messy and I'm not satisfied with where it is right now,” said O2 Utah Executive Director David Garbett, whose organization helped craft the original bill. “That's going to be our job to help [lawmakers] understand that, yes, it is a small amount of bromine pollution, but it's having a significant impact on our wintertime inversions and we need to do something about it … We have to step out in front of the federal government and regulate something that's having a huge impact on our wintertime pollution.”

Stoddard thinks clearing the first hurdle in committee provides a way to make further inroads.

“It came out with [a] unanimous recommendation,” he said. “Hopefully having all those people who are pretty influential in that sphere [that] have said yes once, that they can convince people to vote for it again.”

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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