One of only two air-quality bills to pass among many proposed on the Hill this legislative session was acclaimed by Gov. Gary Herbert and lawmakers as a "quantum leap forward" in improving air quality. Unfortunately, SB275 is no such thing.
The bill, if Herbert signs it, will expand Utah's compressed natural gas-vehicle fueling network and help school districts, governments and businesses buy natural-gas vehicles and convert old vehicles to CNG.
Despite a petition signed by 8,500 Utahns, a letter from 100 doctors, calls for leadership from Moms for Clean Air and Physicians for a Healthy Environment and bills aimed at reducing pollution quickly, legislators and the governor embraced only SB275.
The reason is obvious: SB275 will be good for business the natural-gas business. No matter that gas drilling and production add to pollution. And no matter that energy ratepayers likely will be forced to shoulder the cost of power utility expansion of CNG fuel stations. After all, Herbert admits that he is interested only in policies that can add jobs to Utah's economy; public health is not his priority.
But his criteria for policy decisions is even more limited than that. Clean air helps make a state attractive to business owners, and some job creators will locate elsewhere because of Utah's sometimes worst-in-the-nation air quality. But that connection is less obvious than the jobs directly created by fossil-fuel development. Visionary leaders can see the connections that are real but less evident; Herbert's long-range vision is, well, short-range.
Six air-quality bills were introduced by Democrats, but only one, Rep. Patrice Arent's HB168, passed. It will require state and local agencies to develop pollution-cutting plans. The other five offered out-of-the-box thinking to help reduce the Wasatch Front's health-threatening pollution during winter inversions and summer smog. One would have offered Utah commuters free transit fare for the high-pollution months of January and July; others would have created tougher standards for industrial emissions.
It seems Utah leaders believe they can ignore the bad air during most of the year when it isn't as obvious as during January and February when the junk irritates eyes and throats and threatens the very lives of people with respiratory problems. Even when the inversion period creeps into March, lasting through the legislative session as it did this year, their attitude is to ignore it and hope it soon goes away.
It won't. But, apparently, more people will have to die before anything is done about it.