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No Vote from Senate on "Stricter Than EPA" Air Quality Bill

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April Ashland
Utah Public Radio

The clean air community had high hopes for SB 164, which did not pass out of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment committee on Tuesday. Jennifer Pemberton has more on the bill’s short life.

Known as the “can’t be stricter than” bill, SB 164 is a short bill. So short, in fact, that I’ll just read you the entirety of its provision: “This bill repeals provisions prohibiting the Division of Air Quality from adopting rules relating to the federal Clean Air Act that are more stringent than corresponding federal regulations.”

“We have very unique air quality issues here in the state of Utah. The national standards are based on what’s good for all 50 states, not what's good for Utah," explained Democratic Senator Gene Davis from Salt Lake County, the bill’s sponsor, in his presentation to the committee.

Representatives from several industry groups argue that there is a procedure in place to create more stringent rules than the Clean Air Act, but clean air advocates call that procedure “chilling”, explaining that it is archaic, and doesn’t foster open discussion or allow for bold action to be taken on the part of the state’s Air Quality Board.

“We do need to make decisions locally. This provision allows for that but it does chill the discussion now and then," said Bryce Bird, Director of the Division of Air Quality.

After nearly an hour of discussion, committee member Republican Senator Evan Vickersof Cedar City wasn’t ready to vote, saying it gave him heartburn to think about opening up a regulation free-for-all and going over the top of federal standards, while he was at the same time compelled by testimony from Utah Moms for Clean Air’s Ingrid Griffee that there needs to be better avenues to discuss innovative clean air options.

He told Senator Davis to not table the bill or throw it out with the bath water. The committee voted to move on without passing the bill.

The bill can go back to the drawing board and it may resurface later in the session. In the meantime, Representative Rebecca Edwards is planning on moving forward with a “can’t be stricter than” bill for the House.