SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill unveiled on Utah's Capitol Hill has an ambitious goal to cut the state's emissions in half by 2030.
The legislation, unveiled at a news conference on Tuesday, is being pushed by a powerful, but surprising source: Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, who serves as the assistant majority whip in the Utah State Senate.
"This might be outside of my usual wheelhouse, but maybe that’s what can help get support that might not have otherwise been there," he said.
The bill, dubbed "Prosperity 2030," offers an ambitious plan to reduce emissions in Utah by 50% by 2030. It offers three major ideas:
- A new motor vehicle registration plan that incentivizes people to purchase cleaner cars, in addition to offering money to low-income drivers to switch out their vehicles.
- New standards designed to reduce emissions from homes and commercial buildings, including improvements to existing structures.
- "Cap-and-trade" for large industrial polluters.
In addition, Sen. Cullimore said he would support the creation of a fund to pay for medical bills for people impacted by pollution and the creation of an institute at the University of Utah to continue to study the effects of pollution.
Research presented on Tuesday from Brigham Young University showed pollution already has impacted most Utahns' lives and livelihoods.
"It reduces the average lifespan of a Utahn by about two years," said Isabella Errigo, a researcher and BYU grad student. "It costs our wallets about $2 billion a year. That’s in direct and indirect costs."
The legislation is backed by the environmental group O2 Utah, which asked Sen. Cullimore to run it.
"We actually have the technology to improve vehicle emissions, to improve homes and buildings," said the group's executive director, David Garbett. "I think what you’re seeing today is the beginning of the political will."
Sen. Cullimore's influence on Capitol Hill will certainly help the legislation advance in the 2022 session, but even he acknowledged there are limits. For example, "cap-and-trade," which sets pollution limits that get stricter over time and allows lesser polluters to sell their limits to bigger polluters, may face an uphill battle.
"Just because of the federal political pressure surrounding that and Green New Deal-type stuff, we've got to work our way around that," the senator said. "Sometimes we have to operate in political realities and understand this is going on anyways, is there a way we can make this work in a free market approach and still get the benefits we’re looking for unique to Utah."
But the senator expressed confidence that a lot of the legislation could be enacted. Citing Errigo's research, he argued that for every $1 invested into air quality, the state would see $32 in economic growth.
"We’re not going to be able to get everything, but you gotta aim high and know that this, like anything with big accomplishments and big goals, you take what you can and you keep moving," Sen. Cullimore said.
To pay for it, the senator proposed the state dip into stimulus funds.
"There’s an obscene amount of money coming from the feds and it would be a shame to not use it for policies we all care about," he said.