SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers this session poured more money into localized air quality research, beefed up staffing for regulators and agreed to establish a pilot program for emissions testing on certain diesel vehicles in Utah County.
They also hiked registration fees for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, leaving clean energy advocates dismayed over potentially slowing down the rate of switching to cleaner cars.
Also in the arena of pollution struggles, the Utah Legislature endorsed a program to increase air quality consciousness among students who are going through drivers education.
The planned construction of a men's homeless shelter in South Salt Lake helped spur lawmakers to put $1 million into establishing the Jordan River Park Recreation Area along the segment of the river corridor, bolstering security and improving amenities along state Route 201 and 4500 South.
Lawmakers also signed off on a multiyear effort led by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, establishing a framework of resource management plans for each of Utah's 29 counties — a first in the country that supporters say sets Utah apart from the rest of the nation.
"This is an excellent opportunity for us to be united as a state," Stratton said.
State budget money managers also agreed to free up some restricted accounts to put more dollars into improving conditions at the state's 44 parks — some $10 million. The move turned bittersweet late into the session as Fred Hayes, director of Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, died suddenly March 2 and won't be able to shepherd those changes.
A resolution that unanimously passed the Legislature seeks rename Starvation State Park in his honor. Hayes began his career there in 1982 as a seasonal park ranger.
Among the bills that passed, however, were other failed measures that set up contentious debates — especially in the area of water resource management.
Early on, Salt Lake City wore a target on its back put there by a number of legislative proposals that sought to restrain its oversight of the Wasatch canyons watershed and make it more accountable to people who get its water outside their boundaries.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, sought to exclude a ridgeline-to-ridgeline authority to exercise land use authority from cities of the first class like Salt Lake City, but his colleagues opted to defer that for additional study.
Lawmakers punted on a measure by Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, that sought greater transparency from Salt Lake City and Sandy on the amount of water held via water rights, cost of delivery and service areas.
Stratton, too, had sought a constitutional amendment dealing with how cities like Salt Lake handle surplus water contracts, but that, too, was delayed for study.
An idea by Noel late in the session to rename the National Parks Highway in southern Utah after President Donald Trump barely surfaced before he quickly withdrew it, in part because of timing and threats he said his family received.
Lawmakers were dinged by environmental activists for agreeing to give a $1.7 million reduction in fees to EnergySolutions, which operates a radioactive waste disposal site in Tooele County. Supporters say the reduction would keep EnergySolutions competitive, but critics opposed the reduction.3 comments on this story
The Legislature did find $1.6 million to sue California over fees it assesses on coal imports.
Gov. Gary Herbert said the lawsuit is worth considering.
"My concern is if it's something the state should be behind," he said, adding that believes California's action potentially interferes with the interstate commerce.
"It may be a federal issue that warrants a lawsuit."
Lawmakers also appeared poised to pass a controversial measure that would, under the right development scenario, allow a costly project to move forward to dredge Utah Lake and build island communities.