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Utah panel explores Utah's clean-fuel future
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A lawmaker-ordered discussion on alternative-fuel vehicles wrapped up Thursday with an impassioned plea that Utah's poor should not be saddled with the cost of expanding Utah's network for natural gas vehicles.

SB275 directed the Public Service Commission to field input on the question of promoting clean vehicles — possibly with the help of natural-gas ratepayers. Utah's monopoly natural-gas utility, Questar, said Wednesday it had no plans to seek an expansion of the natural-gas fueling network through its current rates case, but probably in a future one.

Tim Funk, an advocate for disadvantaged Utahns with the Crossroads Urban Center, insisted Thursday that asking ratepayers to foot the bill is unfair — especially to Utah's poor.

"There couldn't be a worse time for this potential rate increase or any rate increase," he told commissioners in a brief public testimony session on Thursday.

"Our poor are poor enough," he said, detailing state poverty statistics. "The sequestration cuts are making it worse, and SB275 as proposed would take away even more from them."

Commissioners would not say Thursday what their report final might include when they deliver it to the Legislature next month. They've heard from Questar and consumer watchdogs, electric-vehicle advocates and private-sector providers of natural-gas vehicle fuel — some in the two days of Capitol meetings and some in written testimony that has become part of a formal commission proceeding.

One sector that has not provided input is the Division of Air Quality, the go-to source in Utah of data comparing the cost of reducing emissions and the likely effectiveness of those measures.

"We need to evaluate the information and determine what form the report will take," said public service commissioner David Clark.

"It's a work in progress," added Commission Chairman Ron Allen.

Meanwhile, a new interlocal panel that was also organized under SB275 is also in the early stages of developing a report to the Legislature. That panel had its second meeting on Wednesday and discussed how $5 million in funding permitted under the legislation might be used to foster the goal of putting more natural-gas vehicles on the road.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Wednesday lawmakers are looking to the two panels to help guide the way forward. He noted that tailpipe emissions are a big part of Utah's air pollution problem, and switching to alternative-fuel vehicles — natural gas, electric or other options — is a solution to the sort of smog episodes that occurred last winter when lawmakers hatched the clean-fuel proposal.

"We've got to do something," Adams said. "Doing nothing is not an option."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah

Environment • Anti-poverty advocate says ratepayers shouldn't cover cost of new program.
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