The only possible reason Republicans in the Legislature have to change the makeup and dilute the authority of Utah's citizen environmental boards is to give more of that authority to polluting industries and people who support, and are supported by, them. SB21 would do just that.
It's not surprising that the bill introduced by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was written by the Utah Manufacturing Association and the Utah Mining Association. Neither is it surprising that the Manufacturing Association gave $86,000 to candidates during the past four years.
Before Dayton first proposed her bill last November, she said she believes the federal agency set up to protect Americans from chemical pollution in air, water and land, the Environmental Protection Agency, is illegal. And she said any protections of Utah's environment should keep in mind "Utah values," which we fear really means valuing industry interests over the individual health of Utahns.
SB21 would shrink and dilute the authority of five citizen boards. Their mission is to watch out for the environmental health of all of us, a mandate that may at times be at odds with the bottom-line health of polluting industries.
The bill would reduce membership on each board from 11 to nine, one of whom would be the Division of Environmental Quality's executive director, or someone named by that person. The bill retains the rule that not more than five members belong to one political party. So five of eight members could be Republicans, three would represent industry, and only one seat would go to an advocate for the environment.
The boards now oversee and hear permit appeals in the state departments of air quality, radiation control, drinking water, water quality, and solid and hazardous waste. Dayton's bill would also transfer to the DEQ's executive director the boards' authority to adjudicate appeals of permit decisions and other rulings. And, of course, that one person appointed by the Republican governor is much more easily influenced by partisan interests, which, for Republicans, are often industry interests.
Although none of this is surprising, it shows the stunning arrogance of Dayton and her colleagues and their determination to keep ordinary Utahns from having a say in issues pitting business against public health.
After all, when your party has unfettered power to make the rules, there's no compelling reason to heed the voices of ordinary citizens over those of generous corporate donors. Or to allow the boards created to safeguard public health and the environment the authority to fill that critical role.