Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Clean air advocates assert the only thing more foul than the Wasatch Front's air this past winter was the Utah Legislature's unwillingness to take any action to clean up air pollution.
"We are overwhelmed with disappointment," said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "We wonder how bad it would have to get for them to start paying attention. … To have done absolutely nothing to address the situation either short term or long term, we couldn't be more disgusted."
Clean air advocates were stunned, too, at the emergence of a bill by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, to upend one of the dozens of new rules adopted by the Utah Air Quality Board for curtailing fine particulate pollution.
The outdoor wood boiler bill, HB394, proposed to overturn a rule that would have banned new outdoor wood furnaces along the urbanized Wasatch Front.
Utah County resident David Leavitt, the brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, led the charge in favor of the bill, asserting the new rule would unfairly single out owners of the devices and ignore owners of indoor wood-burning stoves.
Ultimately, the bill languished in the Senate and did not pass, but not before it caused alarm.
"Our concern is that the Legislature is willing to legislate out these regulations and find exemptions, and that is a huge problem," said Terry Marasco, with the Utah Clean Air Alliance.
Several bills this session attempting to take a stab at the problem fell flat.
One proposal sought to provide free mass transit passes for a pilot program during January and July, the two months along the Wasatch Front when air pollution spikes. Another would have taken money from building or maintaining roads in the state and directed it to the Utah Transit Authority for mass transit projects along the Wasatch Front.
Both bills, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sputtered from the start and didn't get a full airing.
Another proposal to allow Utah air quality regulators to make pollution rules more stringent than the federal government was heard in a legislative committee but rejected.
"Personally I don't see the commitment coming from the Legislature at all," Marasco said. "They told us that by pushing these bills aside."
The Legislature also rejected the notion of providing a state income tax credit for residents who have bought mass transit passes, reasoning that it only benefited users of a system that is subsidized by the entire state.
Lawmakers approved expanding the alternative fuel infrastructure throughout Utah by providing a mechanism for financial reimbursement for new service stations offering natural gas for vehicles. The measure did not come without controversy or critics for fear the ultimate cost would land on ratepayers.
Another air quality measure, Rep. Patrice Arent's HB168, sailed through both the Senate and the House with hardly any opposition, but that's because Marasco said it lacks any teeth.
The air quality mitigation bill asks school districts and certain government entities to report what steps they've taken to reduce emissions such as telecommuting.
"It is a non-bill in my mind," Marasco said. "It is a voluntary data submissions bill. If people don't want to do it, they don't have to. The serious stuff didn't pass."
Early on in the session, stoked by a nasty, persistent inversion in January, clean air advocates railed against Gov. Gary Herbert over Wasatch Front air quality, accusing him of inaction on the issue.
While Herbert could certainly do more, according to his critics, Marasco and Moench said legislative response was pitiful.
"Nothing of substance was done," Moench said.