SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers unveiled two dozen air quality proposals Thursday, including a bill to spend $20 million replacing aging school buses with clean-fuel buses.
Measures ranging from buying transit passes for state workers to Utah-specific research to identify and control pollutants, seek nearly $28 million in one-time and ongoing money. Some of the measures are new, while others came up last year but didn't pass.
Lawmakers last year passed more clean air bills and appropriated more money to improve air quality than in the previous decade combined, said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, co-chairwoman of the Legislature's Clean Air Caucus.
"That was just a start. We have so much more to do," she said.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, said this year will be about budgeting money.
"A lot of the low-hanging fruit, we've already tackled," he said. "Now it's putting your money where your mouth is."
Weiler and Arent joined more than 25 Republican and Democratic lawmakers at a news conference touting the various clean-air proposals.
Arent said the state has limited resources so the legislation must be prioritized based on approaches that have the greatest return for the dollar.
At $20 million, Rep. Steve Handy's bill, HB49, to move to clean fuel school buses is the biggest ticket item. It would create a grant program in the Utah Office of Education to buy new buses, build an alternative fueling station accessible to the public and equip a shop to service and maintain alternative fuel buses.
The initiative calls for school districts to match bus replacement grants from the state education office.
"This is not a silver bullet, but it gets the momentum started to begin to replace over 450 dirty diesel buses that are older than the year 2002," said Handy, who wasn't able to get the same bill passed last year.
Handy told the House Transportation Committee that the measure addresses both transportation and clean-air issues, especially for schoolchildren who ride on buses that burn "dirty" diesel.
The committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation. It now goes to the House floor.
Other funding proposals lawmakers brought out Thursday include tax incentives for alternative fuel trucks, stronger penalties for illegal burning, three new air quality compliance employees and incentives for replacing pollution-emitting equipment in homes and small businesses.
Gov. Gary Herbert touched on air quality in his State of the State speech Wednesday, noting lawmakers passed eight bills last session that he signed into law. He lauded Handy's effort to reintroduce the bill to invest $20 million to replace old school buses with cleaner, lower emission models.
The governor said that since last year's legislative session, he has received commitments from refinery executives that they will work toward producing Tier 3 fuels ahead of the federal deadline. He said he also is working to expedite the arrival of those types of vehicles to the state.
Herbert said he recognizes clean air regulations could hurt small businesses. To ease those impacts, the state has allocated $1.3 million in grant money through the Air Assist program to help them cut emissions
"I think there is a great space between good stewards of the environment and not hurting the economy or making an enemy of our industry here in Utah," said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "I think there are some great partnerships and some great things that we can do."
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