Clean vehicle bill motors toward Senate
Politics • State consumer official warns measure could force utility bills up.
Published: March 6, 2013 07:07PM
Updated: March 7, 2013 10:54AM
Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Crowds gather as they await the arrival of Gov. Gary R. Herbert before packing himself, legislators and the press into a CNG school bus parked next to the Capitol on Monday, March 4, 2013 for an announcement. The governor re-affirmed his call for state and local government, schools, public transit, businesses and industry to transition more of their fleet to clean fuel vehicles, as bill SB275 initiates a process to target heavy vehicle and fleet emissions.

A bill aimed at putting more natural gas vehicles on the road passed a Senate Committee on a 3-2 vote Wednesday.

Sponsoring Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said his SB275 would promote clean air, domestic energy and Utah’s natural gas producers, and it now goes to the full Senate. It has been endorsed by Gov. Gary Herbert and some legislative leaders.

But critics said the legislation would force natural-gas ratepayers, including the poor and those on fixed incomes, to subsidize business and drivers.

Michele Beck, director of the Utah Committee on Consumer Services, was one of three who testified that the bill would be unfair to ratepayers, since it directs the Public Service Commission to move forward with the program without regard to its impacts on ratepayers and fuel-market fairness.

She predicted residential fuel bills would go up between $1 and $5 a year to subsidize the new network of fueling stations, loans and other incentives. And costs would likely go up over time.

“I think we need to find another funding solution,” she told the panel, saying that ratepayers would be forced to fund below-cost fuel stations and conventional gas-station operators would face subsidized competition from Questar. “This bill isn’t quite ready yet.”

Department of Environmental Quality Director Amanda Smith was on hand for the hearing and praised the measure for helping to diversify the state’s car and truck fleet with cleaner-emission vehicles.

About 880,000 cars are driven in Salt Lake County on a typical day — roughly 2,000 of them run on natural gas.

Adams indicated the PSC will vet the program, which promises to save money for schools and others who use the Utah-produced fuel. It also addresses the air-pollution that plagued northern valleys and triggered many constituent complaints that lawmakers have fielded this year.

“I fully expect people to come up and say I want clean air but I don’t want to pay for it,” he told the committee, noting that people who feel too burdened by the added expense will rally against it on the Capitol steps. “We have a commitment to the citizens of state of Utah.”

Twitter: @judyfutah