SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives from a trio of activist groups are calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a pair of measures they say could have harsh consequences in Utah's fight against air pollution.
One bill, HB11, proposes to eliminate the political diversity requirement on 28 state boards and commissions, including the Utah Air Quality Board.
"Some of the issues are inherently political," Denni Cawley, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said at a media event Monday. "If you look at health care and the environment especially, such as pollution, views are often from where you stand politically."
HB11, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, impacts about 29 boards and commissions of the 414 that exist statewide. Of those, Thurston said only 74 have political diversity requirements for appointed members, some which have been in state statute since the mid-1930s.
Thurston said that list was further whittled to 29 boards and commissions that don't need a political diversity requirement.
"It creates a problem," he said. "It puts in a type of diversity that is not relevant to the work of the boards and commissions. These are not party officials. … They are just rank-and-file people from your neighborhood."
Thurston said good candidates to fill empty seats on the boards or commissions have been eliminated from consideration because of their party affiliation.
"They might be an attorney, they might be a doctor, who just happens to belong to a particular political party," he said.
Critics fear the removal of the party affiliation requirement will result in boards becoming partisan tools of a singular party.
"The boards that make critical decisions about health, the environment and utilities must fully represent all Utahns," said Michael Shea, HEAL Utah's senior policy associate.
Advocates are also hoping Herbert nixes HB65, which exempts all outdoor cooking from the Division of Air Quality's mandatory no-burn days in the event of local emergencies or utility outages.
The measure by Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, puts into law existing rules on commercial and residential outdoor cooking and includes allowances for businesses that smoke or cure meat.
"It's a common sense bill," Schultz said. The bill said air quality regulators can't ban the practice, but there is still room for additional regulations to curb emissions.
Cawley and others, however, say it is a pro-pollution bill.
“More and more businesses and individuals are going with the fad of wood-smoked food," she said. "Unfortunately, they do not realize the significant health impacts of wood smoke, which is carcinogenic, contains dangerous chemicals and affects those in the immediate vicinity to a greater extent.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: amyjoi16