Clean air not a big priority for Utah lawmakers in 2017 session

Sunday , March 12, 2017 - 5:30 AM

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

While Wasatch Front residents rank Utah’s poor air quality as a top priority, that sentiment did not appear to have translated into significant legislative action during the 2017 session.

House Bill 134, which would have barred counties from exempting light- and medium-duty diesel vehicles from emissions testing passed the House amid vigorous opposition, but failed to come up for debate in the Senate before the session ended Thursday night.

In an emailed statement, Matt Pacenza, executive director of the nonprofit HEAL Utah weighed in Friday on Utah’s mixed bag of legislative progress on clean air, saying the session fell short of grand accomplishments. A slew of positive measures passed, Pacenza said, but there were also “maddening setbacks.”

“This one hurt! And begs for slightly more explanation,” Pacenza said of HB 134’s failure to pass. “The bill that HEAL did the most work on not just during the legislative session, but for months leading up to it, was this measure to require that any county which has an emissions testing program also tests diesel vehicles.”

After two years of research, members of the Weber-Morgan Health board approved diesel emissions testing in September 2016. Written comments prior to that decision indicated 90.5 percent in support of the program.

RELATED: Weber County diesel emissions testing program approved by health board

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton lamented HB 134’s demise.

“Unfortunately that died, and it’s really too bad. I don’t know why (diesel testing) is a problem — I think the public wants that,” Handy said. However, he was encouraged that lawmakers appropriated $1.3 million to update Utah’s air quality monitoring stations that sometimes malfunction due to age.

Handy also rejoiced in another small victory. Amid broad support, his non-binding resolution in support of using some of the state’s $35 million in Volkswagen settlement funds to replace a portion of the state’s 433 “dirty diesel” school buses cleared both chambers. 

“I started this four years ago,” Handy said of his uphill battle to find dedicated funding to buy clean air school buses. “It’s been a long fight — and it’s still uncertain exactly what will happen. I’d love to see $10 to $15 million go to this.”

Handy also watched his bill to extend tax credits for electric vehicles get narrowly defeated in a 37-38 House.vote in late February. 

“It’s one of my big disappointments in terms of air quality. I’m still smarting from that,” Handy said, noting that of Utah’s 2.5 million registered vehicles, roughly 2,500 are electric. HEAL Utah ranked its failure to pass among the session’s “steps back.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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