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Gov. Gary Herbert endorsed legislation Thursday to repeal a statute severely restricting state agencies from enacting any clean-air law more stringent than federal rules.

"I've been one that believes the Legislature is foolish in tying their own hands," Herbert said.

"We rail in this state about the one-size-fits-all that comes out of Washington. Why would it not be good to say we have flexibility so we can address our own situation and not be beholden to a one-size-fits-all approach?"

Utah law currently says the state cannot enact more stringent air-quality rules than the federal government unless the science conclusively shows that federal standards aren't protecting the health of Utah citizens.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, proposed SB164 to repeal that law, but the state manufacturing and petroleum associations turned out against the bill and it failed to get out of committee this week. The head of Herbert's Division of Air Quality testified at the hearing that the administration was neutral on the bill, as it has been in the past.

"It is really chilling, ice cold, on being able to do anything," said Davis. "We need to do away with laws that stop us and have chilling effects on being aggressive on clean air."

Davis said he is working with members of the committee and industry representatives and hopes he will be able to work out a version of the bill that will pass eventually. A similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-Bountiful, is still being drafted.

Herbert, meeting with the The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board Thursday, said there is "wisdom in taking off the books the law that says we can't do anything more" than the federal government, but Utah air needs to be brought into compliance with federal laws before the law is even a concern.

"Let's get to the federal standard and we can worry about doing more later, but we're not even there right now," the governor said.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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