Legislation to Overhaul DEQ Boards Headed to House Floor

(KCPW News) A bill that makes adjustments to Utah’s environmental boards passed through committee yesterday, despite wide concern from opponents who fear the public could lose its voice. Republican Senator Margaret Dayton says her bill is needed to shrink the size of the Department of Environmental Quality boards that control air, water and hazardous waste, which she says have become too large. Her bill would also change the way appeals are heard, bringing in administrative law judges and giving more authority to the department director.

“The membership of these boards has been kind of put together in a patchwork fashion, where somebody one session proposes ‘I think we should have a person representing this group on a board,’ and in response to that the next year somebody says ‘I think we need to have somebody else representing this,’ and somehow our boards have become quite large and ungainly. They are about twice as big as the other boards in other states,” said Dayton.

Dayton says her bill is an attempt to narrow the focus of the boards, but Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air, says she believes that means industry will get more voices at the table.

“They were already weighted towards industry, and now with these changes it’s even going to be more heavily weighted towards industry. I probably can’t find anybody who is going to say that industry is going to interested in protecting public health over their bottom line,” Udell says.

The bill passed with a 9-1 vote and will now be voted on by the full House of Representatives, the final step before going to Governor Gary Herbert for his signature. The legislation was amended in the Senate to ensure environmental groups would have a seat on the DEQ boards.