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Editorial: Senators kill clean air bills without a vote

Anti-pollution hopes die in Senate

First Published Mar 21 2014 05:21 pm • Last Updated Mar 21 2014 05:21 pm

The Utah Senate. Where dreams of clean air go to die.

The Legislature, pushed by good government groups and prodded by Gov. Gary Herbert, made some progress in its recent session in the battle with Utah’s most pressing problem, the frequently unacceptable quality of the air along the Wasatch Front and in the Cache Valley.

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Money was authorized to clean up the state’s motor pool, replace a squadron of dirty old school buses and entice the few households that use wood-burning stoves as their sole source of heat to shift to a cleaner-burning fuel.

But the two measures that would have done by far the most to really make a difference in the deadly pollution that bogs down our air, primarily in the winter’s atmospheric inversions, made it through the House, only to die without so much as a recorded vote in the Senate.

One was a bill — actually, two matching bills, SB164 and HB121 — which would have removed a foolish limitation now found in state law, one that explicitly prohibits the Division of Air Quality from drafting and enforcing air pollution rules that are more limiting than those imposed — slowly — by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Even Herbert, no big fan of bureaucratic red tape, backed that one. All it was, he correctly noted, was a step to remove some unnecessary shackles from the state’s own ability to police itself rather than stand around and wait for the feds.

But, after the House version passed that body by a vote of 54-18, neither that nor the Senate’s copy was deemed worthy of a full vote in the Senate.

Also passing the House, 58-10, was HB388, a measure that did no more than allow cities and counties to put authorizations for higher public transit sales taxes on their ballots. But senators, reportedly repulsed by the very idea of voting for a tax hike in an election year, also allowed that measure to die without full consideration.

Except, even if HB388 had passed, it would not have been the Legislature raising taxes. It wouldn’t even have been the local governments raising them. It would only have given the people themselves the right to go to the polls and vote a higher tax on themselves, in return for the kind of fleshed-out transit system — i.e., more buses — that could take a big bite out of the number of polluting cars on Utah roads every day.

By failing to act on that bill, state senators baldly put their own political viability ahead of the needs of their constituents. Which, at least in theory, stands against everything a representative body is supposed to do.

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Maybe next time.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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