The foul smog that greeted lawmakers at the session’s beginning had blown out of the Salt Lake Valley by the time they wrapped up their business.
But clear skies and clear solutions to Utah’s problems did not arrive apace. The session ended without any obvious victories on the air pollution front.
One reason might be that lawmakers got a late start.
Sundance Film Festival-goers had already gone home, the 20,000-attendee Outdoor Retailer Winter Market had packed up, upward of 8,000 had signed a petition calling for action and more than 100 doctors had signed onto a letter demanding that Gov. Gary Herbert declare a health emergency because of the pollution — all before the first significant air cleanup bill was introduced.
Democrats proposed six bills — from free transit fare for the high-pollution months of January and July to tougher standards for smokestack industries. One, Rep. Patrice Arent’s HB168, passed with unanimous votes in both houses to require state and local agencies to develop pollution-cutting plans.
A bill Herbert endorsed and lawmakers touted as “a quantum leap forward in improving air quality,” SB275, will expand Utah’s natural-gas fueling network and help school districts, government and businesses buy natural-gas vehicles and convert old vehicles.
But the program worried advocates for the poor that energy ratepayers would be forced to shoulder the cost burden needlessly.
Late Thursday, the House and Senate passed a substitute version of the bill.
Another bill, Rep. Mike Noel’s HB394, would have forced air-quality regulators to scrap a new regulation to eliminate pollution from boilers that burn wood and other solid fuels. It died Thursday in the Senate.
Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said lawmakers remain out of touch with the public.
“They don’t seem to think [pollution] is a problem if the skies are clear for awhile,” he said. “But it will come back.”
His group is expected to call on Herbert and the Legislature for a special session on air quality.