SB208: A ‘simple’ air pollution bill fails in the Senate

By Blakely Gull
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY—A bill that would impose a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for violating the Air Conservation Act took the stage in the final week of session.

In response to years of public outcry, legislators have continued efforts to modify laws impacting air quality in the state. This latest attempt involved Air Quality Amendments sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

Changes to the bill included increasing the civil penalties for violators and extending the statute of limitations for the Department of Environmental Quality from one to five years.FullSizeRender

SB208 was defeated on Mar. 9 among debate where senators expressed concerns that that the bill was neither fair nor completely understood.

Escamilla pointed out to her colleagues that the bill wouldn’t change the language of the law or how it was implemented. “This bill isn’t changing any of our current laws, just changing the way we enforce the laws and giving two extra tools to DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality),” Escamilla said. “One, to take the statute of limitations from 1 to 5 years. And to bring penalties that are real and significant to violators.”

But the bill’s opponents remained vocal in their dissent. The most open detractor was Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. “I have a lot of concerns with this bill,” she said. “DEQ hasn’t taken a position on this. I’m not sure it’s fair we increase these fines.”

Other senators spoke in favor of SB208, citing concerns that fines are severely out-of-date.

“This isn’t a bill that’s tough on good, responsible, decent, corporate people. This is a bill that goes after the serious bad guys in our state,” said Sen. Jim Debakis, D-Salt Lake City, who told the Senate that the current fines are stuck in 1996 and haven’t kept up with federal fine.

According to Escamilla, a recent study from the University of Southern California reported that the area’s air pollution decline has precipitated improved lung function among children.

Along with pointing out the impact of air pollution on children’s lungs, Escamilla emphasized the state’s inversion and the effect it has on Salt Lake residents.

“I know we had a interesting winter with no snow and hardly any inversion. It was a good year for Salt Lake City residents. You guys become residents during the session. Some of us have developed asthma as residents. It’s pretty bad when you can’t breathe,” Escamilla said.

In Escamilla’s last attempt to sway voters she said, “I know there are a lot of bills out there. A lot of confusing bills. This is a very simple bill. The penalties are all in place. We are just increasing the penalties. These are not outrageous numbers compared to other states.”

Although many Senators voiced their understanding in the reasoning behind the legislation, the bill was ultimately defeated, 12-14.

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