Haze at Capitol Hill

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Photo by Laura Fox


Bipartisan Utah lawmakers push for legislation to help Utah’s quality of air problem while UVU’s sustainability department seeks opportunities to reduce pollution around campus.

The House Clean Air Caucus, a bipartisan group of Utah representatives and senators, introduced 15 bills on Jan 22, standing on Capitol Hill with the inversion juxtaposed against their cause- improving Utah’s air quality. Vehicles are responsible for 57 percent of the pollution while local industries are responsible for 11 percent, and area sources – homes, small business, buildings, etc. – are responsible for the remaining 32 percent.

Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) and Rep. Rebecca Edwards (R-North Salt Lake) proposed a bill that will ban incineration of medical waste – body parts, used bandages and syringes, which releases dioxin, mercury and lead – within close proximity to schools and homes. Stericycle, an Illinois-based company with one such incinerator located in Weiler and Edwards’ district, has since announced that they are “seriously considering” moving their operations to Tooele.

Edwards has also sponsored – along with Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City – a bill that will free Utah to write stricter standards than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires.

Briscoe also requests the percentage of sales tax that UTA receives be raised to a full one percent. A proposal to raise the gasoline tax has been discussed by cities and counties; as of the first day of legislation, no bill increasing the gas tax had been suggested. HB-31, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Weber), suggests a tax break for purchasing a facility whose primary function is to prevent, control or eliminate air pollution. HB-74, sponsored by Rep. V. Lowry Snow (R-Washington), increases the tax credit incentives of purchasing energy efficient vehicles.

Rep. Patrice Arent (D-Millcreek) has proposed several bills- HB-38, HB-19 and HB-61:

HB-38 creates a new position inside the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget- a Sustainability Director, who would work with state agencies to “implement sustainability measures,” and report on the efforts annually.

HB-19 removes an obstacle on electric charging stations.

HB-61 expands the Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program to make loans and/or grants available for electric-hybrid vehicles. The director of the Division of Air Quality will have authority to use their discretion on who will be eligible for exchanges, grants and loans. The amount requested is $200,000.

Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton) sponsored HB-41, which requests a one-time $20 million from the Education budget, whose 2012 general education fund was roughly $3.5 billion, appropriated as a matched grant for the replacement of school buses that were manufactured before 2002 with buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), propane or clean diesel fuel. $3 million of the proposed amount would be set aside to install a fueling station and retrofit a bus shop to maintain the vehicles.

Rep. Lee Perry (R-Box Elder) sponsored HB-271, which amends the penalty for violations of visible emission standards, making a first offense a class C misdemeanor and a subsequent offense a class B misdemeanor.

2014 has seen an increase in air quality-related bills from recent years, with more introduced than in the last two years combined. This winter has had less snowstorms than in recent years, thus the inversion hasn’t been cleaned out and has taken on a milky quality, and garnered national attention.

The Sustainability department at UVU is always hunting for the next project.  Buildings use geo-thermal heating –using wells and pushing heat underground in the summer and pumping it back up in the winter- and two more wells are being built for the new building. They are applying for a grant for two electric trucks for campus and will find out if they will receive the grant any day.

“Reduce costs, less consumption, less pollution,” says Denny Rucker of the Sustainability department.

“Legislation to encourage more awareness, driving less, carpooling, planning your trips, using mass transit and legislation to encourage mass transit,” said Jim Michaelis, the Associate Vice President of Facilities Planning.

UVU has sold roughly 4,800 UTA passes since August. They suggest students take responsibility on an individual level, rather than rely on legislation.

The desire to clean the air is not shared by everybody. Tony Gonzalez, a student at UVU, says the inversion doesn’t bother him too much. He used to work for Rio Tinto and noted their efforts to reduce emissions.

“There’s only so much you can do,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not too big a deal.”

Richie Kuli, another UVU student, doesn’t feel particularly strong about any of the legislation, and said that the inversion doesn’t affect his daily life.

All of the bills can be found and tracked on the Utah legislature’s website: www.le.utah.gov.


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