Despite criticism that the state Division of Environmental Quality could achieve its state and federal mandates without being transformed into a full-fledged department at a cost of nearly $300,000, the Utah Senate voted 17-8 on second reading to create the Department of Environmental Quality.

Sen. Stephen Rees, R-Salt Lake, said SB34 would not change the authority or programs of the division but reorganizing the division as a department would increase its visibility.But Sen. Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, said he believes the $297,000 needed to transform the department may be better spent elsewhere. "What are we going to gain with this thing than what we're already doing?" Black said.

Establishing a department will enable it to recruit and retain well-trained people to perform the technical tasks of making sure the state's air and water comply with Environmental Protection Agency requirements, said Sen. Karen Shepherd, D-Salt Lake.

"My sense is if we didn't do this we'd end up spending the same amount of money anyway and do a much less professional job of it," Shepherd said.