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Utah environmentalists worry a bill waiting for Gov. Gary Herbert's approval could throw tinder on the fire of Utah's poor air-quality days.
"You could literally start a bonfire on a red air day in a nonattainment area and roast a single marshmallow and our state regulators could literally do nothing about it," said HEAL Utah's policy director, Ashley Soltysiak. "That's wrong."
HB65, which passed both the House and Senate in the recent legislative session, would require the Division of Air Quality to permit residents or commercial operations to burn wood, even during mandatory no-burn days, if the wood is burned to cook.
About 50 people gathered Thursday at the headquarters of Traeger Grills in Sugar House to protest the bill. Rally organizers said HB65 has too broad of a scope, making it impossible to enforce restrictions on wood-burning on poor air-quality days.
Matt Pacenza said its successful passage also sets a bad precedent, as Traeger which manufactures wood-fired grills lobbied for the bill.
The Legislature or private companies shouldn't be able to tell the Division of Air Quality how to do its job without proper training or advice from air-quality experts, Soltysiak said.
Traeger CEO Jeremy Andrus confirmed that Traeger both supported and conferred with HB65 sponsor Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, as a means to support the liberty of every individual to prepare food outdoors.
The heart of the issue, he said, is "whether a Utah family should have the choice [about] how and when to feed their families."
Andrus also said Traeger takes a responsible approach to environmental protection, citing the company's use of sustainable wood pellets, which he said emit fewer particles per hour than wood stoves and less greenhouse gases than propane or charcoal grills.
And Traeger's nearly 160 local employees are passionate about the outdoors and "care deeply about the environment," he said.
"I think you find that clean air is actually something that's really important to us," Andrus said. "So in terms of this conversation around the environment of Utah, we're real believers that it's an important conversation and we're certainly happy to be a part of it."
Pacenza said the company, which announced its relocation to Salt Lake City from Portland, Ore., in 2015, has helped boost the state's economy, but hasn't aligned with community concerns over the dirty air.
"It's terrific that they've moved here, hired local people, and are contributing to our thriving, growing economy that is such a strength for the state of Utah," Pacenza said. "But being a good corporate citizen is more than adding to a growing economy. It's about the values of a community."
Andrus said he and Pacenza met earlier this week to discuss the bill and "struggled to find a point of difference" in discussing environmental issues.
The rally Thursday came in addition to a rare move from the state Air Quality Board, which earlier this month urged the governor to veto the bill. The nonpartisan board's eight members sent a letter to Herbert warning that HB65 "would directly limit the board's ability to approve future air-quality regulation and enforce existing regulations" a serious matter in a state that has struggled to meet air quality standards.
Pacenza praised Herbert for "often being on the right side" on measures to protect Utah's air in the past and urged the governor to make a similar move as he deliberates HB65.
"We can't say, 'You can't look at woodsmoke, you can't look at this, you can't look at that,' " said Pacenza. "We have to be willing to take a close, careful look at every potential source of pollution out there if we're going to try to solve this problem."