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Lawmakers defer on 'no more stringent' environmental rule

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 2:46 a.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol is silhouetted against the smog-covered sky Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Salt Lake City. A committee heard debate but took no action on a measure that would repeal language in Utah's environmental law that forbids local agencies from passing rules tougher than the federal government. Clean air advocates argue Utah needs more flexibility. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press) The Utah State Capitol is silhouetted against the smog-covered sky Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Salt Lake City. A committee heard debate but took no action on a measure that would repeal language in Utah's environmental law that forbids local agencies from passing rules tougher than the federal government. Clean air advocates argue Utah needs more flexibility. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Industry and clean air advocates squared off Tuesday in the first volley fired in this legislative session over air pollution, with both sides leaving the battlefield empty-handed.

Despite spirited discussion over the merits of SB164 or its faults, the Senate Natural Resources Committee deferred any action on the bill, which seeks to overturn the Utah provision that prohibits having more stringent environmental regulations than the federal government.

"I have some real heartburn saying, 'Yeah, let's open it up and do whatever you want' on environmental regulations, said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.

Vickers said he did not wish to see the measure killed but added he wasn't quite ready to lend the measure his support.

This is the second consecutive year Democrats have tried to repeal the language in a law that Utah air quality regulators say prevents them from invoking clean air standards that are any tougher than what has been enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The minority party, backed by clean air advocates, say the no more stringent standard is the primary obstacle that stands in the way of crafting a Utah solution to the state's dirty air problem.

"It really does have a chilling effect," said Kathy Van Dame, a longtime clean air advocate who sits on the Utah Air Quality Board.

Van Dame said the language "acts like an electric fence" to corral discussion on policies or ways to address air pollution, hindering thoughtful discussion of ways to combat the area's unique inversions.

This year's measure was brought by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who argued that the public is fed up over air pollution and is demanding action.

"I think the public really wants something done about this," he said.

The legislation, however, brought objections from representatives of the Utah Manufacturers Association and the Utah Petroleum Association, who argued the standard gives industry certainty and shields them from local rules that may be enacted in a capricious or arbitrary manner.

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