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Politics & Government

A proposal to help low-income Utahns buy cleaner cars is coming to the Legislature

Stock photo of a tailpipe.
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The newest federal emissions standards are a 98% improvement from 1975, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and “a major driver to the improvements in U.S. air quality.”

A proposal to incentivize people to buy less-polluting cars is coming back to the Utah Legislature.

“Air quality is important for everybody,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper. “These older vehicles really do contribute a lot to our problems.”

The newest vehicle emissions standards, Tier 3, started to be phased in in 2017 and that process will finish in 2025. Those standards are a 98% improvement from 1975, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and “a major driver to the improvements in U.S. air quality.”

Stenquist’s legislation would help low-income people buy electric and Tier 3 vehicles. He said the incentive could come in the form of either a rebate or a tax break.

“For someone who price is a barrier to getting rid of an old polluting vehicle, this might be something that can help them make that decision a little bit earlier and remove that vehicle off the road sooner,” he said.

Not everyone would get the same amount of money. The size of the rebate or tax break would be decided on how mucha person’s old car is polluting and how clean the new one is. Steinquist estimates the largest amount would be around $5,000.

“The vehicles can't just be resold,” he said. “They have to be verified that they've been scrapped and cannot be driven anymore. The engine has to be disabled.”

Stenquist ran a similar bill in 2019 that didn’t pass. He said he’s hopeful it will this time since he’s added the income requirement.

“The idea isn’t to enable people that are wealthy to go out and buy a Tesla if they can already afford it,” he said. “There's limited funds.”

Additionally, Stenquist said, he’s hopeful the state’s $614 million surplus in tax revenue will mean there’s enough money for his program. In 2019, he asked for $6.5 million for the program and said he plans to ask for a similar amount this year, but would settle for less.

“If we got an allocation of $3 million or $4 million, we could still run the program just fine,” Stenquist said. “It would just mean that there would be fewer cars that we would be able to incentivize to be removed off the road.”

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