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May 14, 2013
Sierra Club gives mixed score on area lawmakers

Tooele County legislators received a mixed bag of scores on the Sierra Club’s 2013 Legislative Scorecard released last week.

The Sierra Club grades state legislators based on how they voted on various environmental issues during the most recent legislative session. Among Tooele County legislators, the highest scorer was Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, with 75 percent. The lowest scorer was Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, with 43 percent.

Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, received a score of 50 percent, while Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, received a score of 63 percent.

Dan Mayhew, chairman of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in general, the Sierra Club was disappointed in the legislators during this year’s session.

“That’s not unusual,” he said. “The legislature is increasingly focused on bills that would require the federal government to transfer the ownership of federal lands back to the state, or other bills that encourage counties to file litigation against the [Bureau of Land Management] in an attempt to take away wilderness designations in favor of more roads.”

Mark Clemens, lobbyist for the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote on the scorecard that Substitute House Bill 164 sets the stage for serious conflicts between local officials and federal land managers over health and welfare issues by granting a “probably unconstitutional authority” to local officials to intervene when they think federal land managers aren’t doing their jobs. All four of Tooele County’s legislators voted for this bill.

“It’s unfortunate the legislature has set the stage for unnecessary conflicts between public lands managers and local officials,” he wrote. “Substitute House Bill 164 pre-supposes incompetence or callousness on the part of professionals at the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, which is unfair.”

Senate Joint Resolution 11, which rejects United Nations Agenda 21 and urges state and local governments across the United States to reject it, is a bill the Sierra Club is against. Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. Nelson was the only Tooele County legislator to vote against this resolution.

“SJR 11 puts the Utah Legislature on record as opposing sustainable development,” Clemens wrote on the scorecard. “It also endorses the paranoid notion that the UN’s Agenda 21 is a conspiracy against private property.”

The Sierra Club was also disappointed in both Nelson and Sagers for voting for House Bill 394, which passed the House but then failed in the Senate.

“[This was] a bad bill promoted with inaccurate information that would have exempted outdoor wood boilers from the emissions regulations drafted by Utah’s [Department of Air Quality] that resemble regulations in several other states,” Clemens wrote on the scorecard. “It was defeated once the truth caught up with it.”

Both Thatcher and Knudson voted for Senate Joint Resolution 13, which Clemens said advocates the cession by the federal government of all public lands to the state.

“Every year the Legislature passes bills such as this which would abolish at a stroke one of the greatest assets for quality of life while putting the state on a collision course with the federal government,” Clemens wrote in the scorecard.

Although the Sierra Club was disappointed on several fronts, it noted there were a few rays of light.

House Bill 168 requires school districts in areas with high pollution to report on existing measures used to reduce emissions and to submit a plan describing how they will reduce emissions both on a continuing basis and on red air quality days. Sagers, Nelson and Knudson all voted for the bill. Thatcher was absent for this vote.

“House Bill 168 represents a small step toward clean air and energy efficiency,” Mayhew said. “It encourages schools to take practical measures reducing emissions and saving energy. We hope we can build on small steps like these in the future.”

Senate Bill 221 allows cities and counties to create special service districts that help businesses, federal, state and local facilities to install renewable energy projects or upgrade their energy efficiency standards while repaying the bill over 20 years. This was another bill the Sierra Club appreciated. All four of Tooele County’s legislators voted for the bill.

“Removing the hurdle of finding the capital costs upfront will change the scene for energy efficiency and renewable energy installation,” Mayhew said. “We should see a blossoming of these projects in the next few years.”

All four Tooele County legislators also voted in favor of House Bill 36, which permits both the beneficial use of limited amounts of rainwater and the retention of storm water under certain circumstances to avoid run-off pollution.

Senate Bill 73 creates an Office of Outdoor Recreation that will study, coordinate and advocate for recreation within the governor’s Office of Economic Development. The Sierra Club was pleased with all four Tooele County lawmakers’ decision to vote for this office to be created.

At press time only Thatcher could be reached for comment on the Sierra Club’s scorecard. He said he doesn’t pay attention to what special interest groups think about the bills he votes for or against.

“I didn’t pay any more attention to the Sierra Club than any other group up there,” he said. “I’m much more interested in what the needs of the citizens are than what the needs of lobbying firms are. My first and foremost concern is whether or not bills help people put food on the table. If it does, then I’ll support it. If I get a phone call from a constituent, that carries a lot more weight than a special interest group’s ranking.”

When it came to high and low scores across the state, Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, notched the lowest score with a 25 percent. Nine representatives scored 100 percent. The lowest score on the senate side was 38 percent, earned by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. Two senators, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, earned top scores of 100 percent.

The Sierra Club’s full 2013 Legislative Scorecard can be viewed at utah.sierraclub.org/legislative.asp.

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