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News Blog

Clean Air Bills Cruise Along

by Colby Frazier
Posted // 2014-02-14 -

Bills aimed at cleaning up the state’s lousy air flew through committees Thursday, raising optimism among state regulators and clean-air advocates that lawmakers might take meaningful action on the topic that’s filling everyone’s lungs.

Three bills—one aimed at bolstering laws regulating polluting vehicles, another that would require 50 percent of state-owned passenger vehicles to use alternative fuels or high-efficiency motors, and one that would provide grant money to help people buy cleaner lawnmowers—all moved through committee hearings.

“It’s fantastic,” said Bryce Bird, director of the state’s Division of Air Quality, on the pace at which clean air bills have been moving. “This is the clean-air session and [we’re] hoping the bills keep moving through.”

House Bill 61 would provide $200,000 to the Division of Air Quality to divvy out to private business and individuals who want to convert or replace small motors, like those that power lawnmowers and snow blowers, to cleaner machines. The bill also modifies an existing grant program called the Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program, allowing it to include electric hybrids.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, who proposed the bill, told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment Committee that the modest amount of money needed for the program is a good example of getting the most “bang for our buck” out of clean air bills.

“It’s part of the tool that we need to help clean up our air,” Arent said. “And we need to help individuals, not just fleets and others.”

Some committee members were amused to hear from DAQ officials that in order to receive such a grant, applicants would have to prove that they had destroyed their old, dirty motors.

“It’s called a lawnmower grant?” asked Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. “That’s what it is? It’s kind of an odd deal to me.”

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, compared it to the federal government’s Cash for Clunkers program, and asked Arent if she’d consulted the small engine manufacturer’s association. “How soon can I actually go destroy my own lawnmower and trade it in?” he asked.

Jokes aside, Dave McNeill, planning manager for DAQ, testified that next to automobiles, mobile sources of pollution, such as lawnmowers and other small machines, are the second-largest source of pollutants inventoried in the state’s pollution pie chart.

McNeill told the committee that rather than requiring people to buy fuel-efficient and electric lawnmowers and leaf-blowers, like California does, the bill would merely incentivize the purchase of cleaner machines.

“This is a way to help small businesses and individuals who are really trying to make a difference,” Arent said.

The only committee member to vote against the bill was Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal.

Senate Bill 99 also moved through the committee. It would require that 50 percent of the state’s fleet of passenger vehicles either run on high-efficiency fuels, like the yet-to-be-mandated tier-three fuels, natural gas or electric motors.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, proposed the bill. He joked that a reporter had asked him if he was a newly converted environmentalist. Despite the committee’s chuckles, the Republican said he does want to be a good steward of the environment. “That’s what this is about,” he said. “Clean air and being good stewards. That’s it.”

There was some concern from rural lawmakers about a lack of natural-gas filling stations and electric vehicle chargers in their districts. But Noel quipped that he was OK not having such amenities in his district, explaining that if the federal government were to require that all of its vehicles be electric or run on clean fuels, they’d all have to leave his area of the state.

The bill passed unanimously.

Modern-day diesel engines that still spray black smoke from tailpipes could soon face steeper fees for not cleaning up. House Bill 271 from Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, would heighten the penalty from its current class C misdemeanor to a class B misdemeanor on the second offense.

As it stands, the penalty never rises over a class C misdemeanor. Bird, of the DAQ, said it appears some Utahns were OK simply paying the fines, around $40, each year for a class C misdemeanor citation. Continuous violations will now carry a steeper fee. The bill passed unanimously.

To read HB 61, click here

To read SB 99, click here

To reach HB 271, click here

For more coverage of the Utah State Legislature visit CityWeekly.net and follow @ColbyFrazierLP and @EricSPeterson on Twitter 

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