‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.
‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Once upon a time, we remember a legislative process where legislators did not treat public comment as a formality to be endured and then ignored. But that was then. This is now.
Take, for example, Wednesday’s meeting of the Utah Legislature’s House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.
SB21, a naked attempt to transform Utah’s already weak Department of Environmental Quality into a plain dictatorship answering to industrial polluters, was last on the agenda. Naturally, SB21 was drafted by the Utah Mining and Manufacturer’s Association, and sponsored by Margaret Dayton, whose dislike of regulation is matched only by her inability to understand it. The bill allows the permitting process to be concentrated in the hands of a single person – currently Amanda Smith, the DEQ’s Executive Director who makes Dianne Nielson, her notoriously weak predecessor, look like Ralph Nader. Smith, evidently attracted by the thought of all that power heading her direction, spoke in favor of the bill. The DEQ Executive Director is appointed by the governor, and considering that Governor Herbert also likes the idea of bringing more and hotter nuclear waste to Utah, well, you can see where this is going.
Margaret Dayton trained as a nurse, for heaven’s sake. She’s married to a doctor. What kind of medical professionals are blissfully unconcerned about the suffering of Utah’s children when industrial pollution combined with climate inversions already create the worst air quality in the entire nation?
Nevertheless, despite the impassioned and articulate pleas from a number of public representatives – among them Christopher Thomas of HEAL Utah, Cherise Udell of Utah Moms for Clean Air, Karen Hevel-Mingo of Breathe Utah, and the tireless public advocate Claire Geddes – to reject the bill, the legislative Committee made a show of tolerating their testimony* before briskly voting as a bloc, sending the bill out of committee nearly unanimously. “I swear, it’s the Stepford legislature,” Geddes told us. “They vote with their friends, not their constituents.” Joel Briscoe was the lone voice of reason, actually engaging in some reflection before opposing the bill.
* The stiff upper lip contingent does not count Dayton herself or Representative Noel, who took the whole exercise somewhat personally, calling the public input “reprehensible impugning” and complaining about the bother of being a legislator – to which we have a simple suggestion – GO HOME.