Legislative session begins, tax repeal introduced 07

Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, right, talks with Rep. Keven J. Stratton during the first day of the legislative session held at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Utah State Legislature’s House Business and Labor Committee gave a favorable recommendation on Thursday to a bill that would create a Radon Task Force to study the health impacts of radon exposure and provide recommendations to lawmakers.

The Radon Task Force would be responsible for studying “ways to increase public education and outreach regarding the risks of radon, consistent with best available science and taking into account divergent scientific views,” as well as “ways to mitigate Utah residents’ exposure to radon based on a scientifically sound cost benefit analysis,” according to the text of the bill.

The task force would then prepare a report for the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee ahead of its November meeting and prepare a final report by 2022, at which point the task force would disband.

The 11-person task force would consist of two members of both the House and Senate, the executive directors of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health and Department of Natural Resources, as well as representatives from the construction and real estate industries and an individual “who possesses expertise in the field of radon testing and mitigation.”

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, the sponsor of House Bill 45, called it a “short-fuse, collaborative” effort based on input from various stakeholders.

“So this is a short-term task force that would assemble after the session, meet, and then come back in (November) 2021 with a report,” Stratton told his colleagues on Thursday.

Stratton said there is a “sound and strong body” of scientific research “recognizing and concluding that there is a significant risk” to long-term radon exposure.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the country and is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

“Radon gas is a naturally occurring element here in the state of Utah,” he said. “You cannot detect it by smell or taste, and it often crops up fairly randomly in homes and structures.”

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he was concerned with some of the wording of the bill that had been added from its original version, including the phrases “consistent with best available science and taking into account divergent scientific views” and “based on a scientifically sound cost benefit analysis.”

King said he was worried that the intent of the bill “could be gutted” by requiring the task force to take into account fringe scientific beliefs about the health impacts of radon.

“I would like to think, and I do think that, as legislators, we want to make sure that the best available science, the best thinking in the field, the consensus view on any particular topic, is the one that we would move to adopt as a state legislature in terms of policy making,” he said.

Stratton responded that “the intent would be to say that we want to be acting consistent with the best available science.”

“Yet, in today’s world, and in the political landscape, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge, as we do that, that we haven’t ignored other voices,” the Orem Republican said.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, spoke against the bill and said it “essentially creates a task force to replicate a process that already exists,” noting that the Utah Department of Environmental Quality already offers a radon program and provides information about testing and exposure.

“I agree that radon is an issue,” said Thurston. “But I don’t see the real reason for us to create a new process that replicates one that already exists.”

Stratton noted that the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee unanimously approved a draft of the bill on Nov. 17.

S.B. 45 passed 12-1 through the House Business and Labor Committee on Thursday, with Thurston voting against the bill.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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