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Air Bills Advance

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Cleaner school buses would mean cleaner air with the passage of House Bill 49.

Senators advanced important air-quality bills Tuesday. One provides clean school buses. The other permits Utah-tailored regulations.

The word “different” changed everything for a bill that gives more flexibility to state air regulators. Sen Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, explained that current law blocked regulators from stepping up pollution monitoring at a medical waste incinerator in his district.

“Why is this important? Utah’s unique topography and weather conditions create circumstances that are best addressed with a Utah solution.”

The bill changes current law by simply allowing Utah air-quality regulations to be different from federal ones.

The bus bill would give school districts $20 million to replace some of the 450 old school buses in the state with newer models that burn natural gas, clean diesel and other alternative fuels.

“One of the biggest polluters we all know are buses and the bigger vehicles,” said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Ogden.

“And to be able to spend the money, we not only save on the air quality -- or actually improve the air quality – we save in costs in what it actually takes to operate and maintain the vehicles.”

Both bills are a priority for clean-air advocates, and each faces one more Senate vote before going to Governor Gary Herbert for his approval.

That could be a scramble, since lawmakers can only act on this year’s bills through Thursday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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