The Department of Environmental Quality - the brainchild of Gov. Norm Bangerter - moved a step closer to reality Friday as the Senate Health Committee unanimously approved a bill to transform the division into a full-fledged department.

The governor called for the formation of the department in his 1990 State of the State address. Since then, a task force and committee have studied the issue and helped draft the 300-page bill to elevate the status of the division.Sponsored by Sen. Stephen J. Rees, R-Salt Lake, the bill establishes the mission and an environmental health development plan for the state, now-division director Ken Alkema said.

The department's authority, which to a great extent involves making sure Utah's air, water and waste meet Environmental Protection Agencies standards, will remain the same under the legislation.

Geneva Steel president Joe Cannon, also a member of the governor's oversight committee to create the new department, said creating a Department of Environmental Quality will go a long way to ensure EPA standards are met by all Utah interests.

"At the risk of sounding defensive, industry cannot by itself solve the environmental problem. It's going to require the action of thousands of people," Cannon said.

Speaking as a "regulatee," Cannon said elevating the division's status would enable it to "attract and retain high-quality individuals to deal with issues from day to day." Cannon said the division now suffers from a high turnover rate.