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Despite reservations, a Senate committee Wednesday backed the repeal of a law blocking the state Department of Environmental Quality from enacting environmental regulations more stringent than federal rules.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said the current law ties the hands of state regulators, limiting them to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, and keeps them from tackling Utah's air-pollution problem.
"This gives us an opportunity, if we take this out of the law, to truly be able to look to Utah solutions to our environmental problems here along the Wasatch Front," Davis said.
Todd Bingham, representing the Utah Manufacturers Association, Utah Petroleum Association and Utah Mining Association said the current law lets the state adopt tougher environmental protections, but requires it conclusively show the rules are needed to protect the public. That high bar, he said, ensures any such rules are based on sound science.
Alicia Connell, a mother who was involved in a citizens group that staged protests and other demonstrations to force the relocation of Stericycle's medical-waste incinerator, said the residents were forced to resort to demonstrations because state regulators said their hands were tied by the law prohibiting tougher environmental rules.
"I'm a Republican Mormon mom. I don't protest," she said. "And yet we had to start protesting. We had to start fighting back because the resources that were supposed to help us were not available."
Several members of the committee were lukewarm on Davis' repeal and said they prefer HB226, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, that lets the state adopt tougher rules if it allows public input and regulators determine the more stringent standards benefit public health.
"In my way of thinking, that enhances this legislation because it allows for public input before the rule has been changed and I believe that's important," said Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee voted 4-2 to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The bill passed committee last year, but was voted down by the Senate.