Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lawmakers Pushing Incentives For Cleaner (And Fewer) Cars To Improve Air Quality

photo of Todd Weiler.
Cory Dinter for KUER
Sen. Todd Weiler is co-chair of the bipartisan Utah Clean Air Caucus.

Utah lawmakers often claim they have done more in recent years to address the state’s poor air quality than ever before. But with a mandate from Gov. Gary Herbert to spend $100 million on air quality this year, legislators say they may fall short, especially with new state revenue numbers showing lower returns than expected.

“I don’t know if that means air quality gets scaled back to zero or 50 percent or 75 percent” of Herbert’s request, said Sen. Todd Weiler, who co-chairs the bipartisan Utah Clean Air Caucus. “Hopefully we’ll get some meaningful projects.”

Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he’s a fan of what he calls a “cash for clunkers” bill by Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, that would provide $3,000-$5,000 grants to help low-income people replace their older cars with newer, cleaner models.

“We’re talking about the dirtiest of the dirty cars,” Stenquist said of the proposed program. “I think this could be a significant improvement.”

The bill is one of a handful aimed at incentivizing cleaner — and fewer — cars on Utah roads.

For example, a bill by Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, would create a pilot program for free public transit on certain poor air quality days. Briscoe said research shows that people drive less on “red” days designating poor air quality — yet drive more on “orange” and “yellow” air days than on “green” days.

“So we’re trying to get them to extend their concern for air quality beyond just red days to orange days,” Briscoe said. His bill comes with a price tag of $1.2 million.

Another bill by Rep. Patrice Arent would pay $6 million for state employees to work from home on poor air quality days.

A hefty $26.5 million funding request by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, would replace nearly 250 older state vehicles with newer, cleaner models.

“If we didn’t do this, it would take ten years of attrition to do it, so this is an opportunity to accelerate. Really, I think it’s terrific to have the state lead by example,” Handy said.

Other incentives would target emissions from appliances and home tools.

A bill by Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, would provide $14 million to assist homeowners in replacing wood-burning stoves and fireplaces with natural gas appliances. Another proposal by Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy, would appropriate $3.7 million for people to replace yard equipment such as lawn mowers and snow blowers with electric models.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.