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Clean air activists want Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a bill that would prevent the state from regulating wood smoke used to cook food.

Representatives of both HEAL Utah and Breathe Utah are opposed to HB65, which has already passed the House and Senate. The bill would require the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to permit wood burning, even during mandatory no-burn days, if the purpose of the fire was to cook.

Opponents argued that the language was too vague and would render the DAQ restrictions on wood burning impossible to enforce, but conceded that allowing wintertime backyard barbecues probably wouldn't have a substantial impact on Utah's air quality.

But an amendment in the Senate broadened the scope of the bill, making it pertain to not just a family cookout but also commercial operations.

That change has drawn ire from the environmental community.

"If this version stands, it means the DAQ will never be able to look at smoke from food," said Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah. "It's really bad public policy for state legislators to tell state regulators, you're not even allowed to look at this part of the problem."

Bryce Bird, DAQ director, said he and his office remain officially neutral on the bill. The division hasn't considered regulating food-related emissions, commercial or otherwise, as a way to improve Utah's air quality, he said. But if in the future it did want to consider that option, he said, this bill would make that path difficult.

"It doesn't eliminate that as a strategy," he said, "but it would require legislative approval."

Bird said he doesn't believe the bill will cause any problems for existing regulations, but he added that he does have attorneys looking at the bill's language to determine if it might impact the permitting process for commercial smoking operations. Those businesses, he said, are now required to install pollution-control equipment. Their permits are currently the only regulations the division has in place related to the burning of solid fuels in food preparation.

Breathe Utah opposes the bill in its entirety, said Ashley Miller, program director for advocacy organization. Its main concern, she said, is that the bill could prevent the DAQ from regulating an entire classification of businesses.

"When so broadly categorized," she said, "it really just adds to a problem instead of adding to a solution for our air quality, which I feel like everybody should be focused on."

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