Monday, August 3, 2015

Utah Attorney General’s Office: Meet the Environment Section

By: Craig Anderson, Guest Blogger


DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

DEQ's Legal Team
What do attorneys do for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)? What is our role? What are our successes? I will answer these questions and explain a little more about the many things we do for DEQ.

The Environment Section is  made up of a team of ten attorneys, a paralegal, and a legal secretary. We are an interesting and diverse group. Several attorneys have represented the agency for many years and have in-depth subject-matter expertise and knowledge.

Our Role

DEQ is our client. As its counsel, we advise DEQ and litigate on its behalf. We are honored to be a part of DEQ’s mission “to safeguard human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment.” We support DEQ by:

  • Assisting with implementation of environmental regulations
  • Advising on the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of permits issued to regulated facilities
  • Providing legal support for rulemaking and record requests as well as subpoenas and Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests
  • Representing DEQ in administrative hearings, lawsuits, and appeals before federal and state courts
  • Reviewing legislation affecting DEQ

Our Successes

We work closely with DEQ on matters involving air quality, water quality, waste management and radiation control, drinking water, and environmental remediation. Here are a few of our recent legal successes.

Uinta Basin Ozone Designation
Uinta Basin air monitors
In June 2015, DEQ received a favorable verdict from the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia in Mississippi Commission v. EPA. The opinion considered the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) designation of the Uinta Basin as “unclassifiable” for ozone. EPA designates an area as “unclassifiable” when it lacks air quality data. Ultimately, EPA’s area designations determine the regulatory scheme for the states to meet or preserve the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

When the EPA designated the Uinta Basin designation as “unclassifiable” in 2013, the agency had regulatory air-quality data collected by DEQ in the Basin for 2011 and 2012. EPA had private monitoring data for 2013, but the data were not verified or audited by DEQ. In EPA’s opinion, the Basin was “unclassifiable” because it did not have reliable, quality-assured data for three consecutive years. WildEarth Guardians challenged EPA’s designation. Utah intervened in the case to support EPA. Connie Nakahara from our office represented DEQ in this lawsuit, which resulted in a favorable decision for the state. The court ruled that “EPA reasonably declined to rely on data that it considered of insufficient quality for designation purposes.”

Regional Haze State Implementation Plan

Regional haze is air pollution that reduces visibility in national parks and scenic areas. This type of air pollution can be transported long distances. The Clean Air Act directs the states to develop state implementation plans (SIPs) to reduce regional haze. EPA then reviews and approves or disapproves these state plans.

In her May 11, 2015, blog post Utah Clears the Skies over National Parks, DEQ environmental scientist Colleen Delaney described DEQ’s efforts to develop Utah’s State Implementation Plan for Regional Haze (RH SIP) and get it approved by EPA. Utah submitted its RH SIP to EPA for review in June 2015.

Several months before, environmental groups sued EPA for not taking timely action on Utah’s Regional Haze SIP and asked the federal court to impose a deadline on EPA to promulgate a federal implementation plan (FIP) instead. We have successfully intervened in these lawsuits to protect Utah’s interest in the recently submitted RH SIP that took many years to develop. On July 29, the federal district court granted our motion, allowing Utah to participate. Christian Stephens and Marina Thomas are representing DEQ in this litigation.

Chevron Pipeline Release into Willard Bay

Willard Bay Spill
Melissa Hubbell, another attorney in our section, successfully assisted DEQ in negotiations with Chevron over its diesel pipeline spill into Willard Bay. The negotiations resulted in the cleanup of the release, restoration of a campground and boat ramp, supplemental environmental projects, and a multi-million dollar penalty. The value of the settlement exceeded the amount that would have been recovered if the matter had been litigated.

We enjoy working with the scientists and engineers at DEQ and are glad that we can support them in their efforts to protect Utah’s environment.

Want to learn more about the Environment Section of the Utah Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office? Visit the AG’s official website, where you can find information on some of our other major cases and projects, including depleted uranium disposal, the Stericycle settlement agreement, and our ongoing work on SIP development. We are always happy to hear from DEQ and its staff. Feel free to contact us any time at

I am the Division Chief of the Environment & Health Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office. We are housed on the second floor of the multi-agency office building at 195 North 1950 West. I have practiced law in Salt Lake City for thirty-eight years. I am an active member of the American Bar Association and other professional associations. I travel frequently to attend conferences. My other interests include history, photography, classical music, and jazz.  


Monday, July 27, 2015

Air Quality: Ozone: Health Friend or Foe?

By: Steve Packham

Ozone molecule
Photo credit:
Most folks know that ozone is an important part of the atmosphere. Those of us old enough to remember the panic around the depletion of the ozone layer remember that this gas plays an important role in shielding the Earth from harmful radiation.

So ozone is good, right? Well, yes and no.

Here’s the thing: ozone is a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms. It’s O3. The oxygen we breathe to live is made of only two oxygen atoms. O2 is very stable; O3, not so much.

Photo credit:
O3 is looking for a reason to kick out one oxygen and get back to the happy monogamy of O2. The single oxygen atom is a lung-tissue wrecker looking for love in all the wrong places. It becomes a stalking predator in our airways attacking the closest molecule that can’t fight it off. This is called oxidation. Unchecked, it can do damage.

Being outdoors in the summer is fun. The bad news is that’s when O3 can be a problem. Ozone levels are affected by sunlight and temperature. The lowest levels are in December. The highest are in July.

The good news is that lungs of air-breathing animals like us have been fighting O3 a long time and have cells that make and replenish the liquid lining protecting our airways with anti-oxidants 24/7. And you guessed it: these cells produce more O3-eating antioxidants in the summer.
 Division of Air Quality Hourly Averages for Utah 2003-2012

So is it okay to exercise in the summer, even if the ozone levels are higher? According to Tegan K. Boehmer, senior research scientist, Center for Disease Control (CDC), “(c)urrent evidence indicates that the health benefits of being active, even in polluted air, outweigh the risks of being inactive.”

Having fun and being healthy during the summer ozone season depends on following “Dirty” Harry Callahan’s dictum (Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force): “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Get to know your limitations by regularly checking afternoon ozone levels using the UtahAir App or visiting the Division of Air Quality website and be aware of any respiratory symptoms you might have after being active outdoors.

You can protect your health during summer ozone season by taking a few simple steps. Check out Utah Department of Health recommendations for outdoor activity during ozone season. Download the free UtahAir App for Android or iOS to get real-time information on ozone levels throughout the day. And do your part to reduce ozone levels by driving less and driving smarter.

I have worked as the toxicologist for the Utah Division of Air Quality since 1991. I am a Diplomat of the American Board of Toxicology and received a BS degree from BYU and a MS and PHD from the University of Oregon. I am an Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Utah, Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, and was awarded the Utah Health Hero Award from the Utah Public Health Association in 2005 for my collaborative participation in the development of the Utah Department of Health School Recess Guidelines and Recommendations for Summer Ozone Activities. My career in the academic and private sectors has focused on practical applications of scientific methods and knowledge. Working for the Utah Division of Air Quality gives me the opportunity to make air quality health issues understandable and useful to the general public.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Clear the Air Challenge: Planning, Transportation Choices Protect Air Quality

By: Andrew Gruber, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Photo Credit: Wasatch Front Regional Council
Several years ago, my family and I made the decision to move to Utah. There were a number of reasons for this, but the most important factor was the outstanding quality of life in this state. Utahns enjoy unparalleled access to natural beauty and a strong economy.

Utah is a great place to live, work, and play, but the greatest challenge we face is growth — Utah’s population is set to nearly double over the next 35 years. That means nearly twice as much travel, more goods and services to be delivered, more employees commuting to work, and more errands to run. That additional travel could mean more emissions from vehicles. Currently, emissions from vehicles account for about half of the pollutants in our air.

As we grow, we face the challenge of keeping our families and our economy moving while preserving our great quality of life, and a big part of that is having clean air to breathe.

As the Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, I work daily with my colleagues to plan for a better future that provides transportation choices to residents across the Wasatch Front. By providing choices for how people get around, where people can drive or carpool but also can hop on the bus, take FrontRunner or TRAX, ride a bike to work, or walk, we can improve our air quality by reducing vehicle-related emissions.

In addition to providing more transportation choices in the way we plan for our future, technology also plays a role. Our cars and fuels are becoming cleaner. Through dedicated effort and collaboration in this state, we expect to have a cleaner fleet of vehicles and fuels in the coming years.

This chart displays the reductions we expect in total vehicle emissions over the decades to come:
Some of this is long-term. But what can we do today?

This month, we all have an opportunity to make a difference in reducing emissions by participating in the Clear the Air Challenge. This annual event is a tremendous opportunity to reevaluate how we get where we’re going and how to make a difference.

My family and I are competing in the Challenge, rethinking the ways we get around by carpooling, riding a bike to nearby events, telecommuting, and taking transit as often as possible. Every choice we make helps reduce emissions and improve our air quality.

I invite all Utahns to join me in “driving down your trips” this July by taking the Clear the Air Challenge. Sign up at and make a difference today.

I moved to Utah five years ago after years of vacationing and visiting family in Utah. I’m the Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, where I work with local elected officials and transportation agencies to develop long-range plans for our region’s future, including air quality. I’m a member of Governor Herbert’s Clean Air Action Team, the UCAIR Board of Directors, and Envision Utah. I love spending my free time hiking, biking, skiing, and camping with my family and friends in Utah’s great outdoors.