Utah’s Clean Air Caucus rolls out long to-do list for 2020

Cleaning up Utah's air could mean calming the "range anxiety" that drivers of electric cars often feel when straying from their normal charging station networks.

It could mean paying to double-track commuter rail systems or offering financial incentives for swapping old, polluting cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

A group of Utah lawmakers called the Clean Air Caucus on Tuesday made the case for these proposals and many more as they presented their ambitious slate of bills for the 2020 session.

“We hear from emergency room doctors about pulmonary disease and people who are struggling with cardiovascular disease and how the ERs fill up when we have an inversion,” said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, founder and co-chair of the bipartisan caucus. “And I hear from businesses that it’s affecting their bottom line because they’re having a harder time recruiting people.”

Even though the skies over the state’s capital have gotten cleaner in recent years, Salt Lake City’s air quality still recently ranked as the 7th worst among large metro areas across the nation. Lawmakers said staying on top of the pollution problem will only become more critical going forward, as the area grapples with an expected population boom.

Gov. Gary Herbert has urged the Legislature to invest $100 million in air quality this year, and a couple of the appropriations requests discussed Tuesday were made at his prompting. But Thom Carter, executive director for UCAIR, a statewide clean air partnership, said he’s worried that a budgetary pinch could endanger some of this proposed funding.

An updated revenue forecast, expected for release next week, will brighten the picture, he hopes.

I think there’s a lot of great legislation being proposed by our Legislature this year,” Carter said. “We know that it takes all parties to move the needle.”

The bills discussed at the Clean Air Caucus press conference include:

  • HB59, a proposal to provide an income tax credit related to heavy-duty vehicles that run on natural gas, electricity or hydrogen fuels.

  • HB176, which seeks to reduce vehicle emissions by offering incentives for low-income individuals to trade their older vehicles for newer, cleaner cars.

  • HB180, an effort to exempt electric cars from emissions compliance fees.

  • HB235, which would create a pilot program to provide potential homebuyers and sellers with information about energy efficiency, cost savings and air quality impacts of single-family homes.

  • HB259, a bill requiring the Utah Department of Transportation to formulate a plan for providing electric vehicle charging stations along certain state highways.

  • SB92, which directs Utah transportation officials to create a comprehensive rail plan for the state.

  • SB77 and SB78, two proposals that create credits and incentives to encourage investment in onsite battery storage.