Friday, March 14, 2014

Utah legislature to inversion: See ya next winter!

The 2014 Utah legislative session ended last night with a fury of activity. Unfortunately, it appears that most of the bills designed to significantly improve air quality were quashed in the process Here's a list of all of the 486 bills that passed. I'll highlight some of important ones relative to air quality.
Wasatch Front for many years to come
There’s good with the bad, as always, and Utah politics being what it is, I suppose we should be happy for any sign of environmental awareness. (See the overly effusive coverage from the Trib and DesNews here and here.)


Patricia Arent’s HB154 will provide money to help people convert wood-burning stoves to more efficient sources of heat. This bill also ramps up a public awareness campaign, which will be handy for the apparently-large number of Utahns who don’t know that burning like it’s 1799 causes air pollution. Sadly, the red burn day enforcement parts of the bill were stripped out.

HB41 allocated $20 million for replacing dirty diesel school buses, which is pretty awesome. This article from the SLTrib details the “dirty bus” issue and states that “1,000 of the state’s more than 2,800 school buses are 13 years old or older” and that buses built before 2007 emit more than 20 times the pollution of buses built since 2007. Good work on this one, Rep Handy and Sen Osmond!

$3 million in additional funding was directed to the state Division of Air Quality, with $1.4 million of that specifically for research. Senator Gene Davis said that with this money the legislature was putting scientists to work on the air quality problem. While I always support extra research funding, the legislature is acting as though we need further proof that breathing smog is bad for you before taking any significant action.

Rep Snow’s and Sen Stuart’s HB74 upped the state tax credit to $1500 for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which is good news! Now if we only had the infrastructure to support this for the masses.

Didn't pass:

Johnny Anderson’s HB388 didn't pass, which would have allowed cities and counties to put quarter-cent sales tax hikes on the ballot, which could have raised UTA’s revenue by $91.5 million, expanded ridership by 53% and taken 50,000 cars off the road each day.

And, happily, Wayne Harper’s SB139 won’t end up raising registration fees for hybrids, natural gas, and electric vehicles.

If the first rule here is do no harm, then the 2014 legislature passed with flying colors, since they didn’t pass anything crazy and actually made some minor improvements. Sadly, however, that's not a very high bar. The problem is that the legislature only seems to be able to play small ball. The biggest air quality improvements from this session will be that some new school buses are purchased, a few more people will stop burning wood, and a few more rich people in SLC will be able to buy electric vehicles. Overall, UTA won’t receive any notable funding increases and no bills passed that would in any way discourage driving, which is the main source of pollution associated with our winter inversions. Sweet.

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