Updates on the Clean Air Caucus

image1 (1)With the hue  cry being issued for environmental regulation for a third year in a row on Capitol Hill, the Beehive State’s pollution concerns are currently directed to the place where state laws are made and the Utah public coffers are spent.

The state’s budget and its priorities must be decided  by midnight on March 12 when, by law, that the state’s legislature adjourns – so the days immediately leading up to that finish line are as important as any others in the process.

This is because as the legislative branch’s effort grinds out the success or failure of the proposed rulemaking, leadership has the ability to “wipe the slate,” and prioritize what they determine to be the most important bills and budget allocations for final passage and eventual enrollment.

The public clamor in Utah is visibly forcing the hand of lawmakers, who are attempting to look credible on the issue in front of their constituents while simultaneously open to the influence of powerful lobbyists from extraction industries, noxious waste processors, fleet managers, construction businesses and public utilities.

The environmental lobby has spent roughly 10 percent of the amount fighting for their cause on the hill when compared to energy and natural resources developers. These dollars are also fueling the concern about the control of public lands in Utah and throughout the Intermountain West as the issue of public land transfers are closely tied to energy production.

In his inaugural address before the 61st Utah Legislature, House Speaker Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) said, “It is difficult talking about transportation without also talking about clean air. This discussion should no longer pit the environment against businesses and our economy. We can incentivize jobs within our state while cleaning the air and being good stewards of the environment.”

The reality of that statement is yet to be proven. As of this writing, only 36 calendar days remain to reconcile this sentiment with the last day of legislative business in Utah.

Representative Steve Handy has sponsored HB 15 – Clean Fuel Amendments and Rebates and HB 49 – Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastrcture,  bills making their way through the Utah House to facilitate and allow greater access to CNG (and possibly propane) conversions for government entities using fleet services. The latter of those, HB 49 comes with a significant price tag – $13 million  after being substituted, down from the original  $20 million originally proposed – for grants toward the conversion of school buses.

Rep. Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake City) introduced HB 110 – Motor Vehicle Emissions Amendments which seeks to toughen the DMV’s ability to hold Utah vehicle registrations which are out of compliance with air emission standards, a matter that’s been loosely defined and regulated in the past.

As of publication, that bill was referred for further development by the House Transportation Committee for further “clarification on vehicle titles”.  Arent is also introducing an appropriations request to provide funding for the replacement of pollution-emitting equipment in homes and small businesses, now referred to as Utah’s CARROT (Clean-Air Retrofit, Replace and Off-Road Technology) Program, building on the success of 2014’s pilot program. It would provide funding “to be used to fund replacement and retrofit projects on a competitive basis to ensure that the projects have a quantified air-quality benefit and that projects with the highest benefit in cost per-ton of reductions receive priority.”

Representative Ed Redd (Republican – Logan) is requesting that $750,000 to be spent on “Utah specific research to identify the sources, chemistry and available controls that are effective and financially practical in terms of reducing exposure to the pollutants.”

It remains to be seen if these monies, adding an additional half time employee and the remainder in contracted services to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), will be specific to his district now that oil prices have pointed the Uinta basin toward the down of the boom-and-bust fossil fuels cycle.

A similar request from Senator Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Salt Lake City) is for $135,000 in ongoing annual funds to allow for additional support from the Attorney General’s office, specifically dedicated to the Division of Air Quality to help craft strong counters to legal challenges to DEQ permits.

All eyes are on an effort that pits powerful lobbying interests against the will of those who showed up at Saturday’s Clean Air Now rally. For many years, Utah has been constrained by state law in how much control the state may enact.

A bill that was introduced by Republican Becky Edwards (North Salt Lake) was quashed in committee last year and would have allowed the state’s DEQ to issue standards more strict than those already in place by the federal government’s EPA.

A similar bill is being personally launched by Utah’s Senate Minority Leader, Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) who also sits on the Executive Appropriations Committee. Sen. Davis’ SB 87 – Environmental Protection Amendments  received its first reading and is now awaiting presentation in the Senate Natural Resources , Agriculture, and Environment Committee today.

For many in the environmental community, this is the one to watch as a threshold effort in the rulemaking of Utah’s air quality movement.

UPDATE to the UPDATE:

Senator Davis’ #SB87 cleared the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Committee with a favorable recommendation on a 4-2 vote. The committee chair (Sen Scott Jenkins-Republican, Weber County) was absent. In this procedure, both Sen. Dayton (Republican-Utah County) and Senator Vickers (Republican-Beaver, Iron, Washington Counties) were the “nay” votes. Vickers expressed his reservation that the bill not pass out of committee on a unanimously. Dayton (who chaired today’s committee in Jenkins’ absence) indicated that she wanted her vote to underscore her belief that #SB87 receive more discussion. Now that will likely occur in the Senate Chamber.

During this hearing, there was comment about the House bill sponsored for the second consecutive year by Rep Becky Edwards. Comment in the Senate committee proffered by Sen Iwamoto (Democrat- Salt Lake County) an environmental attorney, said she believed that this bill sponsored by Senator Davis, was the “cleaner” of the two efforts.

Look for more action on this as the effort to give Utah a better bill of health continues. Read SB87 here.

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