Utah Clean Air Caucus unveils legislative measures

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 6:55 p.m. MST

Members of the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus talk about their bills for the upcoming legislative session with a smog-filled backdrop from the base of the state Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Fifteen legislative bills, a resolution and a supplemental budget request all aimed at air quality improvements were unveiled Wednesday by the Clean Air Caucus, in what's described as a concerted effort by lawmakers to reduce air pollution.

Among them is an effort by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to boot Stericycle from its North Salt Lake neighborhood and restrict where the medical waste incineration plant could locate in the future.

Weiler said he is the first to admit he does not know if he can legislatively push the company from its current location — which has been the subject of strident protests and community activism for years — but he says the firm does not belong sandwiched among houses, children and a school.

"It is unfortunate they are where they are," Weiler said. "I am the first to recognize the neighborhood grew up around them. There are houses in their backyard and an elementary school … it is inappropriate for that location now."

Weiler said his measure proposes to prohibit medical waste incineration facilities from existing within a 2-mile radius of a residential development.

Stericycle has drawn the ire of its neighbors after it ran afoul of state air quality regulators in a case in which the company is alleged to have violated the emission levels of its permit and doctored operational logs to misrepresent the volume of disposed material.

The company has denied the basis for the complaint lodged by the state Division of Air Quality, and the case is now on appeal with state regulators.

Stericyle's contribution to the Wasatch Front's air quality problem is just one regulatory bull's-eye targeted for reform during the 2014 legislative session, which begins Monday and runs six weeks.

Advocates and consumers have also pushed for measures that would deliver parity for electrical vehicle owners in the amount of tax credits and the establishment of a similar allowance for owners of plug-in hybrids.

Other measures detailed Wednesday at the state Capitol press conference include:

Allowing an individual tax credit of up to $100 for the purchase of monthly transit passes in July or January, the times of the year when air quality can be at its worst along the Wasatch Front

Allowing for a misdemeanor citation for operators of vehicles with visible contaminants as part of an effort to get vehicles off the road that do not meet clean air standards

Authorizing the state Division of Air Quality to implement standards that address the unique geography-based needs of the state

Creating a position of "state sustainability director," to identify best practices for air quality improvements among government entities

Providing funding to replace up to 170 "dirty diesel" school buses manufactured before 2002

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, noted that the temperature inversion that has persisted for days presented a telling backdrop to the media event, reinforcing the message that aggressive action needs to be taken.

"None of us want our air quality to look like it does today," she said. "As you can see the Utah Legislature is serious. We know now is the time to clean up our air."

Afterward, Arent said she believed the measures could collectively make a dent in the air pollution problem.

"It is very important the Utah Legislature take meaningful action this year. I am really holding people's feet to the fire. It won't solve the problem overnight, but we did not get here overnight."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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