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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Rich Esser unplugs his electric vehicle after charging it outside of REI in Millcreek on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Getting the dirtiest of the dirty vehicles belching harmful tailpipe fumes off the road.

Offering free-fare days when an inversion starts to build.

Changing out wood stoves for gas-fired units or encouraging private businesses to provide EV charging stations and employees to telecommute.

Lawmakers on Wednesday plowed through a buffet of possible pollution-busting measures that add up to $101 million in new funding to fight the Wasatch Front air quality problem.

There was both skepticism and optimism dueling for the attention of members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee, with this question central to the discussion:

What will give the state the most bang for the buck?

Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, wondered how to quantify public receptiveness to free fare incentives on days when the air is starting build up with pollution.

As a cattle rancher, Chew says if a gate is left open and there is fresh snow on the ground, he can tell by the tracks how many livestock were able to make their escape.

"What kind of idea do you have for quantifying that?" he asked.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City and the legislative proponent of a $1.2 million free fare pilot program, said it's impossible to say at this point how many people would take transit, but it's worth launching a pilot to see.

"We want to see if we can change behavior," he said. The money would cover projected losses by the Utah Transit Authority should there be 16 or 17 free fare days.

A UTA official said they would be able to do person-by-person counts on those days to assess ridership impacts.

In the committee hearing, lawmakers heard seven appropriation requests totaling $32.9 million that would result in a lifetime reduction of 2,300 tons of emissions, state agency estimate. Those requests are part of an overall $101 million ask that includes efforts where pollution reductions are less quantifiable, like Briscoe's.

As an example, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, wants $1 million for a messaging campaign to further raise awareness about pollution reducing choices people can make.

Other requests are more tightly connected to specific numbers.

"(Spending) should be data driven and focused on measurable outcomes," said Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper.

He is proposing a $6.5 million expenditure to model a successful pilot program in Cache County where vehicles that failed emissions tests could be eligible for replacement or repair, given the owner's income.

Stenquist said 42 percent of area emissions come from vehicles and 19 percent of vehicles are in the Tier Zero or Tier 1 category.

"These are the dirtiest of the dirtiest cars," he said. There are an estimated 44,000 vehicles on the road that are model 2003 or older.

Stenquist said the Utah Division of Air Quality is developing such a program for Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties in conjunction with an EPA grant, and this spending request would expand the replacement program into Utah County.

Other funding requests target the replacement of wood-burning stoves, which contribute as much as 15 percent of the emissions inventory on bad air day.

Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, is asking for $14 million to spend on those replacements bringing an estimated lifetime pollution reduction of 1,000 tons of emissions.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, stressed he is not trying to diminish the importance of the various requests, but wondered how effective the state can be at curbing pollution when it is swamped by smoke from wildfires as it was last summer.

Many of those fires stem from management practices on the federal forests, he added, a condition the state can't control.

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Stratton asked if pollution regulators knew an exact number on the tons of pollutants impacting Utah areas from wildfires over the last season, and while that number wasn't readily available, division director Bryce Bird said wildfire smoke led to violation of federal clean air standards multiple times.

The vast number of pollution fighting funding requests are billowing before lawmakers as a mirror to a $100 million request for one-time money requested by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert as part of his budget.

Herbert also wants to modernize the state fleet, boost energy efficiency in schools and launch a pilot telework program for a pool of state employees on days when inversions begin to build.