***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
Every year, issues surrounding air quality gain a greater portion of the legislature’s time, as demands for fixes to the state’s worst-in-the-nation air pollution come rolling in from a citizenry sick of the toxic air that affects 80 percent of the state’s population.
One of the more popular routes lawmakers appear to be taking this legislative session it to come up with ways to reduce the state’s environmental impact, while laws that place restrictions on industry or the general public by in large make no progress though the people’s house.
The latest bill to reflect this default policy is SB 99 – Natural Gas State Vehicle Requirements from Senator Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City).
The bill makes one small modification to Utah code that could have a big impact on the air we breathe. Jenkins is throwing down a gauntlet and requiring that half of all state owned passenger vehicles run on natural gas by July, 2018.
The idea of natural gas vehicle conversion is an appealing one. Utah is one of the larger domestic producers of natural gas (though it pales in comparison to our western neighbors Wyoming and Colorado), and natural gas has generally been roughly half the cost of traditional gasoline over the past decade. Furthermore, while natural gas does emit more carbon dioxide than gas when it burns, these vehicles produce less of the overall emissions that degrade both the skyline and our lungs.
Jenkins’ heart may be in the right place when it comes to SB 99, but mandating that half of the state’s fleet of tens of thousands of vehicles be part-natural gas drastically cuts the ability of the state to take advantage of other emission-lowering tactics, such as integrating other high-efficiency, low-impact vehicles.
In other words, if Jenkins’ goal is to increase natural gas usage in the state, this bill is a good start, but if the intention is to reduce air pollution, it may not be the best way to go. It is unclear how natural gas prices will rise or fall over the next four years, nor is it clear what technological advancements in gasoline powered and alternatively powered vehicles will become available. By mandating that half of the fleet be natural gas, it is possible that Utah will be missing out on an opportunity to upgrade to cleaner, more efficient vehicles in the future.
While Jenkins’ legislation could be a sound investment for the state’s air quality and economically (at least for the natural gas industry), artificially tying the hands of the state by requiring it to only invest in only one type of technology could prove short-sided. Jenkins and the state might be better served to require that at least 50 percent of the state’s fleet meet a high minimum standard for fuel efficiency and/or emissions requirements.
To contact Senator Jenkins, click here or call 801-731-5120.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker