Monday, January 26, 2015

DEQ: Let the 2015 Legislative Session Begin

By: Brad T. Johnson and Scott Baird

Photo Credit: Drew McKechnie
Today marks the start of the 2015 Utah Legislature—the 45 days when Utah’s 75 representatives and 29 senators converge on the State Capitol to enact new state laws.

It’s a busy time for all involved. But it’s also an exciting time for those of us at the Department of Environmental Quality because it’s a chance for us to be part of the democratic process. We expect that there will be more than a dozen bills filed during the session that either directly or indirectly affect Utah’s environment.

Legislation has already been introduced that focuses on ways to improve air quality, and more bills will be filed as the session gets underway. We’ve already seen a few bills that address other environmental issues, but it seems that air quality is first and foremost on lawmakers’ minds.

Here’s a preview of the environmental bills we know about so far.

Air Quality

We know that a number of bills for improving Utah’s air quality will be going before lawmakers this session. Representative Steve Handy has introduced two air quality bills that would provide funding for clean fuel vehicles. Representative Patrice Arent, a champion of clean air legislation, has already filed one bill and promises more filings as the session gets underway. Representative Rebecca Edwards will be introducing legislation to allow the Division of Air Quality to enact regulations that are stronger than federal regulations, and Senator Gene Davis has already submitted a similar bill in the Senate.

Below is a list of the bills that were filed at the start of the session:
  • HB15 would authorize DEQ to make grants from the Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Fund to an individual who installs conversion equipment on a motor vehicle.
  • HB49 would provide grants to replace school buses with alternative fuel vehicles and provide fueling and maintenance infrastructure for these cleaner buses.
  • HB110 would suspend a vehicle’s registration for failing to meet emission standards.
  • SB69 would ensure that at least half of the vehicles in government motor pools use alternate-fuel or high-efficiency vehicles.
  • SB87 would repeal provisions prohibiting the Division of Air Quality from adopting rules that are more stringent than corresponding federal regulations under the Clean Air Act. 

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Other Environmental Legislation

While air quality will be a big topic during the session, other bills have been introduced that address water quality, hazardous waste, and low-level radioactive waste disposal.

  • HB31 would increase the civil penalties for violating provisions of the Public Utilities Code regarding the intrastate transport of natural gas.
  • HB78 would allow Radiation Control to grant a generator access permit to radioactive waste generators whose handling, packaging, or transport of waste are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or an agreement state.
  • HB84 would ensure that lead-acid batteries are properly handled by certified recyclers.
  • SB25 would reauthorize the Resource Development Coordinating Committee, the clearinghouse for state agency comments on environmental issues.

We know there will be other legislation introduced during the session related to the environment. For example, one proposed bill would merge our Division of Radiation Control with our Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste to enhance operational efficiencies.

For the first time, DEQ has added a legislative liaison to assist Executive Director Amanda Smith during the legislative session. Our liaison will help us connect with lawmakers and develop important working relationships with them.

Our job during the legislative session is to provide lawmakers and the public with accurate information of the potential impacts, intended or unintended, of proposed laws. We are committed to keeping everyone— lawmakers, the Governor’s Office, DEQ employees, and the public— informed throughout the 2015 session.

Want to know more? Check out our bill tracking page for the latest information about environmental bills before the 2015 legislature. You can also visit the Utah Legislature website, search for legislation affecting the environment, and sign up for the bill tracking service offered by the legislature. You will automatically receive updates on the legislation you are tracking, including where they are in the process and any changes made to bill language.

Brad: After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Geology from Brigham Young University in 1983, I found employment with the Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste in the Utah Department of Health. I have worked in various positions in the agency since that time, and I have been the Deputy Director since 2009. The work we do at DEQ is frequently challenging and always interesting, and I thoroughly enjoy my job. When I’m not at work I enjoy doing about anything outdoors. I particularly enjoy hiking and running races with my wife Annette, five children, and their significant others.

Scott: As the Director of Legislative and Government affairs, I work with legislators and stakeholders on pending legislation as well as promoting the great work that our Department does. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor's Office in Utah and Washington and with Deloitte Consulting in D.C., where I helped state and federal agencies identify and implement opportunities to improve. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Brigham Young University and my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) and JD degrees from Syracuse University. I LOVE to get outdoors and enjoy SKIING, running, hiking, camping, working in the yard, fixing up our broken-down house, and anything else I can convince my wife and four daughters to do with me.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Radon: What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

By: Eleanor Divver

Photo credit: Photo Dean
In my job, I hear a lot of stories about families who have suffered terrible personal losses because they were unknowingly exposed to radon gas in their homes. Some of these stories, like the one below, just break my heart.

A family moved to Salt Lake City eighteen years ago. The company that paid for their move asked the seller to perform a radon test on the house the family planned to purchase. The test came back with radon levels at 7.8 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. That’s above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level of 4 pCi/L of air. The seller asked to perform another test. The family agreed, and the second test came back at 3.7 pCi/L of air…below the EPA action level. Satisfied that the home was safe, the family moved in.

Fast forward to 2015. The mother of the family discovers that she has Stage 4 lung cancer. The family re-tests the home, and discovers that the radon levels in the home are 7.5 pCi/L of air. How did this happen? Well, the homeowner probably opened the windows while testing the home the second time to lower the reading, which gave the family a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, this family’s situation is not unique. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. One in three homes in Utah has tested above the radon action level.  

Think about it. One in three homes—a third of the homes in the state—show high levels of indoor radon.

According to the Utah Geologic Survey, the soil and rocks in many areas of the state are favorable for high indoor radon levels. The average radon level in homes tested in Utah comes in at an unhealthy 5.3 pCi/L.

Governor Herbert with DEQ radon Poster Contest Winners
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Governor’s Office are working together to raise awareness about the health hazards from radon gas to ensure that Utah residents know how to protect themselves from this silent killer. Last week, Governor Gary Herbert signed a declaration designating January 11-17, 2015, as “Radon Action Week” and honored the three elementary school winners of a radon awareness poster contest sponsored by DEQ. The governor urged the students to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities by spreading the word about the dangers of radon gas.

The only way to know if you have high levels of radon in your home is to test for it, and testing is cheap and easy! We have test kits that are available online for $8.00 for Utah residents. Even if you’ve tested for radon in the past, the EPA recommends that you test your home every two years, as levels can change. 

The good news is that if you discover you have high levels of radon in your home, you can install a mitigation system for around $1300 that will bring the radon to levels around 2 pCi/L of air. You can check out our list of EPA Certified Mitigators to find a certified contractor that can install a system in your home. Not sure you can afford it? Green and Healthy Homes has funding available for qualifying households to help pay for the costs of mitigation.

Please take the time to educate yourself about the dangers of radon gas. Let’s make those stories of families shattered by radon a thing of the past.

Test your home for radon today! The only way to know for certain about the radon levels in your home is to test for it. Concerned? Don’t worry! Attend one of our upcoming radon education sessions to learn more about how you can protect yourself and your family. I hope to see you there!

I have worked in the radon field for 15 years, most recently as the radon coordinator for the Division of Radiation Control. I enjoy being outdoors with my family and golden retriever.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Air Quality: Confessions of an Ex-Wood Burner

By: Donna Spangler

I’ll admit there was a time when I enjoyed curling up on my comfy couch with a crackling blaze burning in our wood-burning stove. That was 10 years ago, when my husband and I bought a historic house that featured a family room with a wood-burning stove. We enjoyed the evenings we spent around the fire because it gave us the same comforting feel as a cabin in the woods.

Now, as Communications Director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, I talk with people every day about the ways burning wood contributes to poor air quality. I caution the public to avoid burning on voluntary action days when the air quality is deteriorating and remind them that burning is prohibited on mandatory action days when the air is unhealthy.

I confess, back in those earlier days it didn’t seem shameful to light a fire.The direct effects, at least in my case, seemed to be an occasional smoke-filled room from pesky backdrafts. It was all part of the charm of living in Ogden’s historic district.

Then I found out that my wood-burning fire is actually harmful to my health—and the health of others, including my family and neighbors. I now know that tiny particles of soot that come from burning wood are small enough to enter my lungs. I can’t see them, but they can make it harder to breathe, and in extreme cases they can even cause a heart attack or stroke.

Bryce Bird, director of the Division of Air Quality (DAQ), explained to me that when you light a fire, you expose the people inside your house and the children playing outside in your neighborhood to the harmful pollution that comes from wood smoke.

We began to wonder if we should replace the old dinosaur burner with an EPA-certified stove. Would that solve the problem?

Not really, air quality experts tell me. While it’s true that EPA-certified wood stoves, when operated according to manufacturer specifications, may produce less particulate air pollution than uncertified ones, they still produce particulate pollution in amounts of magnitude greater than natural gas fireplaces. In addition, EPA-certified stoves still emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the reactive gases responsible for 70 percent of the particulate pollution during inversions.

Governor Herbert has asked the Air Quality Board to consider a seasonal ban on wood burning in urban areas during our winter inversion season from November to March. This proposal is open for public comment this month, and DAQ is holding public hearings in the seven counties that would be impacted by the ban, And yes, this seasonal ban would affect the use of my wood stove in Ogden.

Our old wood stove? It lived a good life, but all things come to an end. We now use a gas fireplace to provide ambiance for our home. Do I miss the crackling fire? Sure. But my health and that of my neighbors and family are more important in the bigger scheme of things.Times have changed. We live in a world where people are packed together tighter than ever before, and the simple reality is that our actions, even those that seem minor, do affect those around us.

RIP, old stove.

Want to learn more about the impacts of wood-burning? Visit our Wood Burn Program web pages or EPA’s Burn Wise site. We welcome public comments on the seasonal wood burn ban proposal and encourage you to attend one of the public hearings held in the affected counties. You can provide your written comments via email comments to Mark Berger or send your comments by standard mail to: Public Comment Division of Air Quality, P.O. Box 144820, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84114-4820. Your thoughts on this issue matter to us. I’d also love to hear what you think.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at