SALT LAKE CITY – Most Republicans pay lip service to the goal of smaller government, but Utah Rep. Casey Snider, R-District 5, is actually trying to make that happen.
“The gist of what I’m trying to do,” the Paradise Republican said during a recent virtual town hall hosted by the Cache County GOP, “in a bill that is about 9,000 lines long, is make government smaller. I’m trying, through consolidation of agencies, to end up with better outcomes for regular people.”
Snider’s proposal is House Bill 346, entitled “Natural Resources Entities Amendments.”
“(This bill) has been about a year coming,” Snider explained. “Its intent is…trying to get better efficiencies between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality. It also consolidates a few agencies, including the offices of Energy Development, Outdoor Recreation, Public Lands Policy Coordination and a few others.”
Most significantly, HB 346 would move the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Office of Energy Development to within the Department of Natural Resources. The proposal would also divide the state Division of Parks and Recreation into two separate divisions and modify the powers and duties of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Snider’s pending legislation isn’t the only government consolidation bill under consideration at the Capitol. A similar proposal by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, would merge the Utah departments of Health and Human Services.
Both sponsors of those proposals say that their intent is to provide better services more efficiently by facilitating improved coordination between state agencies with similar functions.
“Sometimes these agencies – and let’s pick on the Department of Environmental Quality, for example – don’t necessarily coordinate with all of the other entities that have to implement or bear the impacts of their decisions,” Snider explained.
“In theory, Environmental Quality can be discussing a rule on water or air,” he added, “and may not be fully in synch with the Department of Agriculture about how their decision will impact farmers, or with the Department of Natural Resources about how oil, gas or mine operations will be impacted.”
The most controversial facet of HB 346 would seem to be the proposed transfer of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) into the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That suggestion is already drawing criticism from some advocacy groups saying that it could signal a loss of independence for state environmental officials and declining emphasis on clean air and water concerns.
In 2020, the state’s Environmental Quality department housed more than 350 employees involved in overseeing issues relating to water and air quality, emergency environmental response efforts, waste management and nuclear waste disposal.
If HB 346 is enacted, DEQ’s new home will be within the Department of Natural Resources.
With a budget of about $280 million, DHR employs up to 1,500 full-time and seasonal workers within seven divisions concerned with wildlife, parks and recreation; water resources; water rights; geological survey; forestry, fire and state lands; and oil, gas and mining.
Despite public criticism, it appears that Snider’s consolidation proposal has support at the highest levels of state government.
During his first State of the State address, Gov. Spencer Cox highlighted achieving cost efficiencies by reducing duplicative efforts by state agencies as one of his priorities.
Snider’s proposal received a favorable recommendation Monday from lawmakers on the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and the Environment.
“It will still be a race to the finish line to see if we can get this bill enacted before the end of this (legislative) session,” Snider acknowledged. “We’ve been working closely with Gov. Cox and his team has been fantastic to work with.
“I think they see the value in some of these consolidations and mergers as well.”