Apr 6, 2023 - News

Republicans block Democratic Utah Air Quality Board nomination

Illustration of the Utah State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A move to appoint Salt Lake County Councilmember and physician Suzanne Harrison to serve on the Utah Air Quality Board failed to gain a favorable recommendation from a Senate committee Tuesday.

Driving the news: The measure to appoint Harrison, a former Democratic state lawmaker, drew a split 3-3 vote among Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Confirmation Committee members.

  • Republican Sens. Ronald Winterton, Derrin Owens and Keith Grover voted against her appointment.
  • Two Democratic Sens. Jen Plumb and Nathan Blouin, plus the committee's chair Republican Sen. Scott Sandall, voted in favor.

Details: Winterton and Owens grilled Harrison during the Tuesday committee meeting about GOP-led policies on cleaner fuels and natural gas that she voted against as a lawmaker.

  • "I don't see that she's a team player. I see that she's playing party lines," Winterton said before asking Harrison to justify her vote in 2020 against a measure that extended tax breaks for oil refineries transitioning to tier 3 gas, a cleaner fuel. Harrison said she voted against that bill because she didn't believe an oil refinery receiving tax relief counted as making measurable efforts to produce cleaner fuel.

Meanwhile, Gov. Spencer Cox-appointee and Republican Uintah County Commissioner Sonja Norton's nomination to serve on the environmental board passed on a 5-1 vote.

  • Plumb and Blouin challenged why Republicans chose to advance Norton's nomination but not Harrison's despite the two sharing similar concerns on air quality issues.
  • Owens later said there was "nothing personal" about his vote against Harrison.

Catch up quick: Cox nominated Harrison, who served in the state Legislature between 2019 and 2023, last month to fill the board position vacated by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. The seat is required to be filled by a government representative.

What they're saying: Harrison told Axios she was "disappointed" by the outcome, saying it was the first time a Utah Senate committee didn't favorably recommend a governor's nomination to the Air Quality Board.

  • Utah Democratic Party spokesperson Ben Anderson told Axios Harrison is "extremely qualified" to serve on the board due to her experience as a politician, physician and former co-chair of the Clean Air Caucus.

What's next: "My understanding is that the nomination can still go before the full Senate," she said. "I am talking to the governor's office about the path forward."

  • A spokesperson for Cox told Axios, "This is working its way through the process," when asked for comment and whether the governor would make a new appointment.
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