Pipeline crackdown
Utah: Be environmentally aggressive
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One of the most important rituals among Utah politicians is the Bashing of the Feds. It is an almost daily rite where anyone who expects to be taken seriously seeks to outdo his or her fellows in finding fault with the laws, regulations, budgets and land-use policies of the government of the United States of America.

At the center of most Utah fed bashing are allegations that federal efforts to, say, help low-income families or protect the environment amount to overreach, excessive spending, even downright tyranny.

But recently there has been a sliver of hope that at least one Utah political leader sees a way to do real good and boost his own political stature by arguing that, at least in one area, the federal government is at fault for doing too little.

Gov. Gary Herbert quite reasonably pointed out that three major leaks in the interstate Chevron pipeline that has twice spilled its contents into Red Butte Creek and, more recently, into wild areas of Willard Bay State Park, is an unacceptable situation. Not only that, but it demonstrates that the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration isn't doing its job.

There has yet been no formal proposal from the governor's office to beef up the state's authority and monitoring of such pipelines. But the possibility was implicit in the governor's remarks at the time of the Willard Bay leak and fits with Herbert's announced plan to look at how the problem is handled in other states.

Outside experts say that other states have found that the federal agency charged with seeing to the safety of the pipelines that crisscross the nation delivering natural gas and petroleum products — often at high pressure — is spread so thin that increased vigilance by states is necessary.

The best hope is that Utah will not only answer the call of increased scrutiny of pipeline safety in the state, but that it will also come to realize the other federal environmental protection efforts that are flawed, not because the regulations are too stringent, but because they are too loose.

The state law, for example, that forbids the Utah Division of Air Quality from imposing tighter regulations than the feds do on the valley's refineries should be reversed. If anything, the state, with its specific knowledge of the area's unique geography and its focused duty to protect the residents of one state, should hold its industry to higher environmental standards than do the feds.

Advocating for such a position could turn fed bashing into something that actually benefits most Utahns, rather than sacrificing their interests on the altar of politics.