Thom Carter: Air quality and the legislative session: two big wins from the Utah Roadmap

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, kicks off a press conference by the Utah Legislature's bipartisan Clean Air Caucus at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, to discuss air quality legislation and appropriations requests being considered during the 2020 General Session.

During the 2019 legislative session, the Utah Legislature charged the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute with identifying potential strategies and policy recommendations to assist the Legislature in improving air quality and addressing the causes and impacts of a changing climate.

The institute put together a 37-person advisory team to assist in the work, and delivered The Utah Roadmap. I was pleased to represent the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) on this advisory team, where we worked to create goals, strategies and suggestions for potential legislative implementation.

The Roadmap includes seven mileposts — some immediately actionable with others meant for longer-term implementation. With the end of the 2020 session, I am happy to report that the Legislature took significant action on two of these mileposts: accelerate quality growth efforts and position Utah as the market-based Electric Vehicle (EV) state.

First, quality growth.

A bill by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, S.B. 150 Transportation Governance Funding Amendments, speaks to this milepost. For years, the state has limited Utah Transit Authority’s ability to enter into joint ventures with communities to develop around transit hubs. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) was capped at eight statewide.

Among many other things, this bill lifts the cap and opens up smart growth opportunities. UTA has indicated that they have over 30 TOD opportunities. This quality growth strategy is great for air quality. When people live, work, and play near transit it makes living without a car easier and drives down mobile emissions.

Next, EV infrastructure.

Based on our most recent data, the primary reason people don’t buy electric vehicles is range anxiety. Think about the anxiety you have when your cellphone is at 50%, then 20%, then 10%. You urgently seek a power source. This same concern can be a barrier to EV adoption.

While Gov. Gary Herbert called for a significant investment in EV infrastructure in his budget, the fiscal landscape changed when, in response to public action, the Legislature overturned tax reform. As a result, we were less optimistic that we would see major EV investment this year.

However, Rocky Mountain Power stepped up, proposing a $50 million EV infrastructure investment across their service area. But that investment required legislation allowing available funds to be spent for that purpose. A bill from Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, H.B. 396 Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Amendments, provides Rocky Mountain Power that option.

However, Rocky Mountain Power doesn’t cover the entire state. Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, sponsored an appropriation that, when partnered with a commitment from the rural power cooperatives, will help fill the gaps throughout the state.

Finally, a bill from Rep. Robert Spenlove, R-Sandy, H.B. 259 Electric Vehicle Charging Network, will provide the statewide plan to ensure that these charging stations go in the best places possible to ease range anxiety and put us on the real pathway to success.

Action breeds action. This year, as in past years, the Legislature took action for air quality, working with partners and the public and using the Utah Roadmap as a guide. We thank House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams for their leadership.

Now, we should all create roadmaps for ourselves and our families. We know that in our effort to clear the air there are no perfect answers, but there are practical solutions. As you and your family write your own roadmap, you can find the solutions that work for you at UCAIR.org; whether it is teleworking, being idle free or something in between. I’ll see you on the path to better air in Utah.

Thom Carter

Thom Carter is executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.