The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is now headed by an environmental justice consultant who, like the Trump administration, has targeted the state’s environmental protection agency for the purpose of “caring” for its workers.
DeSmog reported Thursday that the appointment of a former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer to the DEQ’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Programs was announced last week, but only after a court ordered it to be released from a restraining order issued by the U.K. High Court on Feb. 26, 2017.
The court ordered that the release of the documents, including a draft memorandum that outlined how DEQ could regulate the agency, be made public.
The document, titled “Evaluating the Effects of Implementation of the Clean Air Act and Implementation of COVID-19 in Utah,” was authored by former federal environmental lawyer David A. Smith, who has been the acting administrator of the Office of Environmental Justice since January.
The memorandum was signed by DEQ Director John C. Williams, who was appointed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in 2018.DEQ director of enforcement and compliance John C Williams (center) in Utah.
DeSMog reported that the memorandum “is intended to be an environmental protection advisory document that identifies any potential problems with the agency’s implementation of COVIS-19” and “explains the requirements of the COVIS rule and any proposed regulatory measures.”
The memo was “the latest in a series of steps taken by DEP officials to implement the Trump Administration’s COVIS regulations,” which have included an increased emphasis on COVIS compliance in the DEP’s policies, the agency announced in February.
The memo also lists several areas of concern, including the “continuing erosion of Utah’s natural environment” and its ability to meet the “essential requirements of air quality and clean air.”
It also discusses the “widespread and ongoing” threat to Utah’s public health posed by the “high rate of COVI-19 infections and deaths,” which DEP Commissioner Lisa McPherson told reporters were among the “most severe” she has seen in the state in decades.
A recent report by the Utah State Department of Health found that more than a third of the state had contracted COVID infections and that the state was seeing an “increasing number of cases of COV-19 cases.”
The department is urging the state to establish “a COVIS plan” to deal with COVID cases.DEP Commissioner Miller said at a press conference last week that the agency was “very concerned” about the COVID guidelines.
“The health and safety of our employees and their families is our top priority,” she said.
“We need to have a plan in place to protect the public.”
The Utah Department on Wednesday announced that it had hired a new, former environmental lawyer, Joseph J. L. Hagerty, as the DEW’s first deputy director of environmental justice, the state agency said.
Hagan, a former lawyer for the National Rifle Association, was named deputy director in April.
In a statement, DEQ Chief Counsel Karen Taggart said the agency had “committed to hiring an independent, qualified expert in environmental justice who can serve to support and implement the DEEPA’s goals for protecting the environment.”
She added that the “new person will have the expertise to help ensure that the Office for Environmental Justice is fully informed about the agency policies, procedures and standards, and that it follows them.”
DeSmug reported that DEP Director Hagan had been the DE’s chief counsel for about five years and was a former director of the National Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group that has worked to block environmental regulations in Utah and elsewhere.
Hagan was also the executive director of Utah Citizens Against COVID, which has been critical of DEQs actions to regulate the COV and other respiratory illnesses.
DeAgostini reported that Hagan has been a critic of the Utah legislature’s efforts to pass the COVAIDS Act, which would have allowed states to regulate COVID.
In the House, Rep. Dan Gannon (R-Utah) introduced the COVEN Act in February, which he described as an “all-out assault on environmental protection.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R), who sponsored the bill, told DeAgostinis that DEQ is “trying to take away from the state its power to enforce the COVEA rules.”
Turner has also been a vocal critic of DEP efforts to regulate air quality, noting that the DEEP has been accused of “a complete failure to enforce state air quality standards.”
DeAgstini reported on Thursday that DEH spokeswoman Amy Foy said the state is still considering whether to hire Hagan to fill the vacancy.
In August, DEH Administrator Mark L. Brown wrote to legislators asking them to support a bill that would allow states to impose COVID regulations