SALT LAKE CITY — Despite Utah's ongoing drought emergency and the potential for catastrophic wildfires, Governor Spencer Cox said he is blocked from issuing an all-out ban on fireworks.
"I do not have the authority to implement a statewide ban," the governor told reporters at his monthly news conference on PBS Utah, reiterating his support for a fireworks ban this year.
It follows weeks of negotiations with legislative leaders on Utah's Capitol Hill about a statewide ban on personal fireworks. FOX 13 first reported on Wednesday that GOP leadership had declined to pursue a ban. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers said they would encourage Utahns to closely follow their own local restrictions.
"We much would prefer to keep it on a local level to allow individual municipalities and counties. There already is a ban on state lands, federal lands," Sen. Vickers, R-Cedar City, told FOX 13, adding: "There’s a lot of small businesses that have geared up to sell fireworks. We feel comfortable that if people will think twice and be careful how they do it, we’ll be fine."
The governor said he requested a legal opinion from the Utah Attorney General's Office about whether he could issue is own emergency order. Gov. Cox said he was told that while emergency powers allow him to suspend laws, he cannot alter them. He has the power to issue emergency orders for fires, floods and even a pandemic — but not fireworks.
"I’ve told the legislature I think it’s a terrible idea not to have additional restrictions this year. They haven’t shown any interest in doing anything more around that," the governor said. "We are relying on local governments to put those restrictions in place. I would also say, 'Look people. Please, this is not the year."
Gov. Cox said he is urging local communities to put in tough fireworks restrictions. Depending on where you live in Utah, the restrictions are tougher than others. Some communities have severely limited where fireworks can be set off.
Salt Lake County, the state's most populous county, has limited fireworks to urban areas. St. George has banned them from most of the city, but is allowing residents to use public parks to safely set them off.
Gov. Cox warned that conditions are incredibly bad for wildfires: "It’s worse than you think it is out there."
He said he is planning to ask lawmakers to revisit fireworks restrictions in the 2022 legislative session.
"I would not ask the legislature for an all-out ban. What I would like to see happen is areas of exceptional drought, there’s just an automatic ban," he said.