Judy Fahys

Reporter

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.

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Politics
5:36 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

Utah's Democratic Party Leader Resigns

Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis has stepped down as chairman. He will run for reelection in his progressive, Salt Lake City District
Credit Brian Grimmett

The chairman of the Utah Democratic party is stepping down from the position he’s held for nearly three years.

Jim Dabakis says he’s resigning to deal with an undisclosed medical condition. But he says the move also frees him to be a stronger advocate for progressive causes. 

“As a party chair, I often felt constrained about what I would say,” Dabakis explains, “and what I could say not wanting to hold candidates from the rural parts of the state to a flaming progressive agenda.”

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Environment & Public Lands
9:32 am
Mon March 24, 2014

Citizen Scientists Sought to Track Kestrels

Hawkwatch's Shawn Hawks cleans out a nesting box to make it ready for a new kestrel family.
Credit Judy Fahys

    

Biologists worry about the kestrel’s decline. So a Utah nonprofit is looking for citizen scientists to help understand the reasons behind the bird’s downward trend.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:00 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Congress, Utah Lawmaker Blamed for Stalling Conservation

A liberal advocacy group blames Congress for blocking progress on national conservation efforts in a departure from a longstanding bipartisan tradition. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar singles out U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for being behind the lack of progress.
Credit Equal Ground Campaign

A Utahn is in line to lead the House panel that oversees the nation’s public lands. But advocates doubt Congressman Rob Bishop will pick up the tradition of bipartisan support for conservation if he gets the job leading the House Natural Resources Committee.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:00 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

Utah Prairie Dog Story Prompts Stewart's Endangered Species Bill

The Center for Biological Diversity points to the Utah prairie dog as an Endangered Species Act success story.
Credit Center for Biological Diversity

Federal law restricts some development in Iron County to protect the Utah prairie dog. But a Utah congressman says it’s a case where the federal Endangered Species Act should be improved.

Republican Chris Stewart wants to change the way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counts species in peril. He’s introduced the Endangered Species Improvement Act in Congress.

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Environment & Public Lands
5:45 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Scientist: Fossil Plants Help Tell Planet's Past, Present and Future

Scientist Scott Wing talks about what plant fossils can tell about climate change.
Credit Ira Block

Fossils tell the story of the world’s past and the next Frontiers of Science lecture will explore what the fossils also say about current times and the future.

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Environment & Public Lands
3:57 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Report Provides Risk Tool for Geohazards Near Zion National Park

North Fork of Virgin River flood.
Credit Utah Geological Survey

    

The rock and soil that makes the redrock country around Zion Canyon so picturesque, also makes it dangerous sometimes. A new geology report details the hazards.

Soil and rock crashed into a Rockville home last winter and killed the two people who lived there. This is the sort of tragedy the Utah Geological Survey hopes to avert in its new report on significant hazards on State Route 9 near Zion National Park. Bill Lund is one of the study’s authors.

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Environment & Public Lands
2:06 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Air Quality Commands Lawmakers' Attention

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, speaks at the pre-Legislature rally attended by thousands of Utahns fed up with poor air quality. Arent created the Clean Air Caucus, whose members championed several bills to passage during the 2014 Session.
Credit Judy Fahys

  

  The Salt Lake Valley was choking with winter pollution as the Legislature convened in January. Lawmakers were compelled to step up to the challenge to clear the air.

Thousands of Utahns rallied for air pollution solutions outside the state Capitol the weekend before lawmakers settled in. No one could remember another time that so many people came together to demand a stop to the smog. Sara Baldwin Auck is an advocate for Utah Clean Energy.

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Environment & Public Lands
5:52 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

Lawmakers Caught in Transmission Line Power Play

TransWest Express LLC wants to build and operate an electricity transmission line. House Bill 44 would require TransWest to offer capacity on its line to Utah companies. Investor-owned TransWest says its too soon for contracts like that that and vows to sue if lawmakers pass the bill.
Credit TransWest Express LLC

    

As the legislative session winds down, lawmakers find themselves in the middle of a power play between energy businesses over an interstate electric transmission line.

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Environment & Public Lands
4:46 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Agency Seeks Public Comment on Refuge Drilling

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hear from the public on its plans to allow two companies to drill and operate energy wells in the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. This is a view of the Green River at the refuge.
Credit Jaclyn Kircher / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    

Two energy companies are seeking permission to drill in the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Utah. The federal agency reviewing the proposal is now ready to hear from the public.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working for two years with the companies behind the drilling plans. Thurston Energy and Ultra Resources plan a total of 11 wells in their separate projects. The Uinta Basin already has over 10,000 oil and gas wells, so the new ones might not seem like much. But the wildlife refuge exists to safeguard wildlife and its habitat.

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Local Government
5:31 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

Transit Ridership Jumps

UTA's new FrontRunner South line helped double commuter rail ridership in Utah last year. TRAX saw an increase of 6.8 percent.
Credit Utah Transit Authority

Americans are using public transit more than ever. And Utahns are part of that trend.

A new report says Americans took a record 10.7 billion trips last year on public transportation. The Utah Transit Agency has seen a similar trend. Its trains, buses and trolleys logged 44 million trips last year -- more than ever before.

  American Fork resident Greg Davidson rides the new FrontRunner line from where he lives in Utah County into Salt Lake City a few times a month. Today he’s headed to the airport on the new TRAX line.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:01 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

Quarter for Clean Air Bill Heads to Senate

The Sugar House streetcar is one of the transit projects that gets cars office the road. The Quarter for Clean Air bill is would help remove even more pollution from Utah's air.
Credit Utah Transit Authority

The Utah House passed a bill Friday to allow communities to raise local sales tax rates to pay for transit projects. Supporters say it would help clean up Utah’s air.

Utah’s clean air advocates like the Quarter for Clean Air bill. So do local communities that would like revenue to put more buses on the road and expand service hours. Justin Jones is communications director for the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. He says Utah’s business sees it as an important keep Utah growing wisely.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:25 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

House Advances Bill to Reduce Wood-stove Pollution

Sooty pollution from wood stoves would be cut with a bill to educate the public and help around 200 households that heat with wood in high-pollution areas to switch to cleaner sources.
Credit Flickr Creative Commons

  A bill to reduce wood-stove soot in Utah’s high-pollution areas is headed to the Senate after receiving House approval Thursday. The bill would help fund programs to help people who rely on woodstoves alone to convert to cleaner home-heating alternatives.

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Politics
4:24 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig Won't Run for Re-Election

Women top the leadership of both parties in Utah’s House of Representatives. But that’s going to change next year. Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, announced she’s stepping down as leader of the House Democrats. Like House Speaker Becky Lockhart, Seelig is the first woman in Utah’s history to hold her post. She says serving in the Legislature has been an education in juggling and she’s ready to focus once again on her personal goals.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:57 pm
Wed March 5, 2014

Storms Boost Snowpack But Forecasters Remain Cautious

Four storms last month augmented northern Utah's meager snowpack. Forecasters and water managers remain hopeful but cautious.
Credit Nomadic Lass

Utah's water picture looked grim about a month ago. But February storms have brightened the outlook.

Two years of lower-than-normal precipitation had left many Utah reservoirs half-full at the beginning of the year. Winter storms didn’t help much either, since the snow seemed to fall everywhere east of Utah's mountains. Brian McInerney is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. He says back-to-back storms over the past month have boosted the snow pack on the Wasatch Range.

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Environment & Public Lands
3:50 pm
Tue March 4, 2014

Utah Supreme Court Weighs Tar Sands Project

The Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could clear the way for the nation's first tar sands mine in Utah's Book Cliffs.
Credit Kent Miles, Courtesy of the Utah State Courts

    

The Utah Supreme Court is considering whether a Canadian company can begin mining tar sands in the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah. If approved it would be the nation’s first commercial tar sands operation.

John Weisheit is conservation director for the Moab-based environmental group Living Rivers. He says the Utah Division of Water Quality should have required the mine to get a pollution permit for its tar sands mine. Regulators insist there is no water to pollute. But Weisheit says the mine site drains into the Green, White and Colorado Rivers.

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Environment & Public Lands
6:22 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Utah Embraces National Clean Car, Clean Fuel Standards

Supporters of Tier 3 point to this EPA map that shows northern Utah will benefit more than any other spot in the nation from the new clean car, clean gas regulations. Tier 3 is phased in over the next 16 years under the schedule announced Monday
Credit Environmental Protection Agency

    

Utah will see bigger clean air benefits than anywhere else under new federal regulations that even have the support of some Republicans. Cars and trucks are responsible for more than half of Utah’s summer and winter smog. That’s why so many people are excited about the EPA’s new Tier 3 standard for cleaner cars and cleaner fuel. Bryce Bird is director of the state Division of Air Quality. He explains how it works.

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Politics
6:18 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

House Passes Bill to Limit Voter Details

Lawmakers say they want to add some privacy protection for voters' personal details, including birth dates, phone numbers and addresses.
Credit Utah Elections Office

    

The Utah House has passed a bill that would allow voters to keep their personal information private. That information is currently available from voter registration records that have been posted online.

Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, supports a bill that would allow voters to choose whether they want their personal details from state election records to be public. Last year, a web site bought personal information for 1.5 million Utah voters and posted it on the web. Hutchings says that kind of data is fodder for thieves like the ones who stole his identity.

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Environment & Public Lands
3:47 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Utah Bill Lets State Get Tougher on Air Pollution Laws

Utah House lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow state-specific solutions to air pollution.

Republican Rep. Becky Edwards, R- North Salt Lake, has a bill to loosen a law that prevents state environmental rules from being stricter than federal ones. She says Utah knows how to clean up its air better than the federal government does.

“HB121 allows for local control to address our local needs,” says Edwards. “This is another example of how states are more effective and do things better than the federal one-size-fits all solutions.”

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Public Safety
6:20 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Speed-limit Bill Headed to Governor

More miles on Utah highways may soon have a 80 mph speed limits, thanks to the passage Friday of HB80.
Credit Flickr Creative Commons

It’s now up to Governor Gary Herbert now to decide if more of Utah highways should be considered for 80 mile per hour speed limits.

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Education
5:22 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

House Would Give Aid To Families With Autistic Children

The Utah House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that would aid families that have children who fall in the autism spectrum disorder.
Credit Viktor Hanacek

House lawmakers want to give families with autistic children a helping hand. They voted Tuesday to continue supporting a few programs that have shown success in Utah.

Republican Representative Rhonda Menlove says a constituent call a few years ago triggered her interest in autism programs. She told her House colleagues that she picked up the phone one day and heard a screaming child in the background as the sobbing mother pleaded for help.

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Education
8:48 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Classroom Overhaul Envisions More Technology

A new initiative proposed by House Speaker Becky Lockhart would put a laptop, iPad or other electronic device into the hands of all Utah public and charter school students.
Credit Aleks Dorohovich

House Speaker Becky Lockhart only needed to look at her own children to see kids and electronic devices go together naturally. The insight has inspired her new initiative to transform Utah’s public schools.

Lockhart says parents and teachers need to catch up to children when it comes to technology. That’s what prompted her Public Education Modernization Act. It would put electronic devices into the hands of all 620,000 students in Utah’s schools. Lockhart’s asking for up to $300 million to make her vision a reality.

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Politics
5:18 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Lawmakers, Agencies Hawk Pet Projects at Capitol

Judy Fahys

Lawmakers have been talking for weeks about how to spend taxpayer dollars. Now they are drawing up priority lists in hopes of snagging some of the state’s $5 billion budget for their favorite projects.

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Education
6:00 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Preschool Program Wins House Approval

The idea behind House Bill 96 is to help preschoolers prepare for the classroom -- through at-home programs as well as pre-K programs. The bill is headed to the Senate after passing the House on Tuesday.
Credit Tasha Cook

The Utah House threw its support behind new results-based programs to boost early-childhood education. It’s a concept backed by leaders of both parties.  

Republican Rep. Greg Hughes of Draper says all Utahns have a stake in making sure that all children get a good start at school – even before they’re in kindergarten. His bill calls for investors to foot the bill for expanding early education programs like those in the Park City and Granite School districts. Hughes says the $5 million program will provide opportunities for disadvantaged children

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Environment & Public Lands
6:06 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Weekend Storm Gives Welcomed Boost to Utah Snowpack

Skiers enjoyed vistas of fresh snow at Patsy Marley, near the Alta Resort, after the four-day storm. Avalanche danger was high in much of the backcountry after nearly 3 feet of snow fell at nearby Alta Resort.
Credit Don Sharaf / American Avalanche Institute

Rain and snow drenched northern Utah this weekend, bringing moisture that will make a big difference in spring and summer. 

Randy Julander works for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. He monitors Utah’s snowpack. He also watches water levels in Utah’s streams and reservoirs with an eye on what that means for irrigation and drinking water. Last week his office reported that snowpack was just 75 percent of normal statewide. Julander says key reservoirs were less than half full.

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Public Safety
4:57 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

House Bill Could Mean Higher Speed Limits

The House passed a bill Friday by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, that may mean more 80 mph highways in Utah. The bill goes next to the Senate for consideration.
Credit Utah Department of Transportation

    

The Utah House has passed a bill that could mean higher speed limits on more of Utah’s interstate highways.

Close to 400 miles of Utah’s highways already allow drivers to go 80 mph. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, says more areas of interstate freeway should be considered for higher speeds. His bill would allow the Utah Department of Transportation to study divided highways where it might make sense to let drivers go faster. He says the Utah Division of Air Quality told him that faster driving does not lead to more pollution.

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Education
7:43 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Both Parties Pledge Bipartisanship on Education Bills

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, describes his party's education bills at a Wednesday news conference.
Credit Judy Fahys

Legislators have proposed around 80 education bills in the Legislative session so far. Democrats and Republicans say they will work together to improve Utah’s classrooms.

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Environment & Public Lands
5:28 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Students Lobby for a New State Tree

Nine 4th graders from Angie Blomquist's class at Monroe Elementary in Sevier County traveled to the Capitol to testify on behalf of their bill to change the state tree to the quaking aspen. They posed with State Forester Brian Cottam, who also spoke in favor of the bill.
Credit Judy Fahys

A group of concerned school kids made their way to the Utah State Capitol Tuesday to ask lawmakers to change one of the state’s symbols. 

Fourth-grade lobbyists say Utah needs a new state tree.  Members of Mrs. Blomquist’s class from Monroe Elementary in Sevier County pressed their case at the Capitol. Nine of the students told senators why the Colorado blue spruce should make way for the quaking aspen.

“The quaking aspen is self-pruning,” said Neomi Avery, “They take care of themselves just like Utah citizens.”

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Environment & Public Lands
5:24 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Goodbye to Winter Smog? Forecast Says the Season's Last Inversion Starts next Week

This snapshot of the Climate Center's inversion forecast shows a likelihood of a weeklong inversion -- and the smog building -- beginning in about a week. You can see the page online at: http://climate.usurf.usu.edu/inversion.php
Credit Utah Climate Center

    

Skies have been smog-free in northern Utah for the past few days. Now the Utah Climate Center says we can breathe easy for at least another week.

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Environment & Public Lands
5:42 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

Urban, Rural Lawmakers Spar over Lands

The wildlands near Goblin Valley State Park are part of the rural road controversy.
Credit Ken Lund

  

A state lawmaker says wilderness advocates are waging a war of attrition in the wildlands fight.

Kathleen Clarke leads Utah’s public lands policy office. Her job includes guiding the state’s legal battle over 12,000 roads in rural Utah. The state is fighting the federal government to prevent federal wilderness designation on the land those roads cross. She told legislative budget-makers Thursday some of her agency’s budget will help pay for 200 crucial interviews that need to be done in the next two years.

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Politics
5:35 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Drug Overdose Bill Nods to Good Samaritans

The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that is intended to assist people who call for emergency help when someone is overdosing on drugs.

Amelia Sorich died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine even though two friends might have saved her life by calling for help. But the friends chose not to because they feared being prosecuted the drugs in their possession. Holladay Democratic Rep. Carol Spackman Moss says there are too many cases just like that. She crafted a bill to grant limited immunity to Good Samaritans who find themselves in a position to help.

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