Republicans, Democrats together on need for clean air legislation
Luke Franke, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — More than two dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers stood together Monday to announce a long list of clean air-related bills and appropriation requests.
"We have made tremendous progress in air quality in the last few years. Our air has improved," the founder and co-chairwoman of the Legislature's bipartisan clean air caucus, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said. "But we know it’s not enough."
Arent said the package that totals 14 bills so far does not contain "any silver bullet" but represents what she described as incremental but important steps to improve air quality that can be taken this session.
Lawmakers described proposals ranging from a $10 million request from Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, to match with local funds to replace 119 aging diesel school buses, to Arent's bill, HB237, that would allow taxpayers to contribute to a Clean Air Fund.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, is sponsoring SB102, which would provide tax incentives over 20 years for local refineries making the costly conversion to producing cleaner Tier 3 fuel.
Other proposals include efforts to increase electric vehicle charging stations, require the sale of only low-emission water heaters by 2018 and prevent homeowners associations from blocking solar panel installations.
Arent said new clean air bills are being introduced daily, and she hopes all are passed.
"There are about 15 different approaches. And together, they work. You’ve got to do a lot of different things," she said. "I think the political will is there. I don't think this is about Democrats and Republicans. I think we're working together."
Both GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, cited improving air quality among their goals for the session.
The governor said in his State of the State speech last week emissions have already been reduced by about 35 percent over the past decade, "but the data means very little when the inversion sets in and those emissions hang in the valleys."
Herbert said he is continuing to push for Utah refineries to produce Tier 3 fuel and announced that one, Tesoro, has already agreed to make the transition while others are expected to follow.
Hughes said in his opening day address to the House that he has a goal of ultimately eliminating so-called "red air" days in Utah through improving air quality monitoring and research.
The speaker said the bipartisan participation in Monday's news conference "shows that the Legislature's taking clean air very, very seriously. I don't think it's one of those issues, as maybe has been in the past, where it's been partisan, it's the environment versus the economy."
But he said clean air bills that have a price tag will face "high competition" for funding.
"We're going to want to maximize that. We're going to want to make sure the dollars that we spend have the greatest potential to promote clean air," Hughes said. That may include boosting public outreach, he said.
Handy, who tried unsuccessfully to get funding for replacing "dirty diesel" school buses last year, said he's optimistic his scaled-back proposal this session will fare better, along with the other clean air initiatives.
"How can you not want to do this? There is such tremendous public support," Handy said. "So hopefully the Legislature and the leadership will coalesce around really good public policy that has a health benefit."