What is the Utah State Legislature doing about air quality? Lawmakers show their work

Posted at 4:09 PM, Feb 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-22 21:58:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert has pushed for a $100 million investment in efforts to improve Utah's air quality.

But the Utah State Legislature got bad news on Friday: state revenues are down $200 million.

"I hope we get $100 million, but we just had some revenue forecasts that were released today and they’re going in the wrong direction," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, a member of the legislature's Clean Air Caucus.

Lawmakers are pushing 32 different bills aimed at improving Utah's notoriously dirty air. But a lot of those bills could be in trouble with bad fiscal news.

"No, I don’t think we’ll get $100 million but I think we will get significant funding for air quality projects. There’s a lot of good requests out there," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, another member of the caucus.

At a news conference on Friday, lawmakers addressed the air quality bills they are working on and prodded legislative leadership to give them the money. Air quality is one of the top issues Utahns say they want the legislature to address.

"They’re expensive. But you know what? The public wants it. The public wants cleaner air, it’s important for our health. It’s important for our economy, too," Rep. Arent told FOX 13.

Bills include:

  • $6 million to push state employees to telecommute and expand telecommuting in rural Utah.
  • More electric vehicle charging stations across Utah (about $9 million).
  • An incentive for people to switch out gas-powered lawn mowers and snowblowers for electric ones (about $3.7 million).
  • $14 million to keep funding programs encouraging people to swap out wood-burning stoves and fireplaces with natural gas ones.
  • Bringing back the tax credit for purchasing electric vehicles and hybrids (that the legislature took away last year).
  • Environmental monitoring of the new inland port (about $600,000).
  • Allowing cities to get more aggressive about ticketing idling vehicles.
  • A bill to give money to UTA to provide free fares on bad air days (about $1.2 million).

"We are working diligently to improve the air quality," said Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy.

Sen. Weiler said all the bills have good aims, but they are always battling a common problem.

"Short of telling people they can’t drive their cars and can’t heat their homes and can’t heat their businesses and offices, short of that I think we are addressing (air quality)," he said. "Obviously, the elephant in the room is people living their lives. And nobody wants to stop doing that."

But Thom Carter with the Utah Clean Air Partnership said he believes the legislature's bills are slowly improving air quality. He said increased teleworking, more resources for transit will reduce emissions. Utah's unique topography will always be an issue, meaning inversions will always be there.

"As we drive down emissions that’ll mean a slower build into an inversion so instead of on the fifth day of an inversion we’re on a red air day it’ll be on the eighth day," he said.

Rep. Arent said if people want to ensure that air quality is funded and the bills are passed, contact your elected representative and senator.

"On beautiful days like today, legislators don’t hear from their constituents on clean air. They forget about it," she said. "I think it’s important for people who care about these issues to contact their legislators."