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.
Rep. Brad Last updated the House on new consensus revenue numbers. Utah lawmakers have $525 million one-time and $570 million in ongoing to spend. Last says it's the best year they've had since the Great Recession. "We do have good revenue, let's use it wisely." #utpol
— Julia Ritchey (@juliaritchey) February 22, 2019
“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.