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Clean Fuel, Clean Air Bill Emerges from Legislature

Utah Department of Transportation
State lawmakers hope to spur the introduction of Tier 3 clean gasoline in Utah with the recent passage of SB216.

Utah lawmakers took a big step on air quality last week by passing a bill that creates incentives for refineries to make cleaner gasoline in Utah.

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, has worked for years on a legislative tax break to draw new industry to rural Utah. As the 2015 general session wound down last week, lawmakers added a provision to Okerlund’s billto help urban Utah, too. It makes Salt Lake Valley refineries eligible for millions of dollars in tax credits  if they invest in producing clean gasoline.

“It became so attractive because of the possibility that we have to speed up the process to produce Tier 3 fuels in the state,” says Okerlund. “That’s the one thing that could have the most effect on the air.”

Tier 3 fuel is low-sulfur gasoline that generates less pollution. The federal Tier 3 program also requires cars and trucks to pollute less. Overall, the clean-fuel, clean-car program is expected to cut as much pollution as taking four of every five cars off the road.

“In terms of the potential for this – we think it’s huge,” says Cody Stewart,  policy director for Gov. Gary Herbert.

“It can make a big difference for the refineries but even more importantly for Utahns, for their air quality. We hope that this is one tool we’re looking at that will bring Tier 3 fuels to the state as soon as possible.”

Tier 3 is expected to improve northern Utah’s air more than anywhere else. But federal law precludes the state from mandating low-sulfur gas at Utah’s refineries. The state can only encourage them.

In an interview with KUER News, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes counted the refinery tax credit as one of the Legislature’s most important clean-air accomplishments this year.

“We think, by honey more than by vinegar, we’re going to see some difference and some better fuel quality,” he said. “So we put some incentives in place that would encourage our refineries to start producing and refining cleaner fuel.”

The tax credit is expected to save Utah refineries tens of millions of dollars on upgrades they need to make to produce Tier 3 gas.

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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