Catalyst at the Capital: 2019 Legislative wrap-up

By Jessica Reimer

How did the environment do?

Another legislative session has come and gone, and like most years before this one, there was a range of positive and negative legislation passed (or not) that affects our environment.

The good:

HB 139: Motor Vehicle Emission Amendments, Rep. Angela Romero—aka the “Coal roller bill”
After an unsuccessful go in 2018, Rep. Angela Romero was successful in passing this bill that increases the fines for truck owners who illegally tamper with their diesel vehicles to spew black smoke in the air, or “roll coal.” It is also now a citable offense when this action harms bicyclists, pedestrians or other road users.

HB 353: Reduction of Single Occupancy Vehicle Trips Pilot Program, Rep. Joel Briscoe – aka the “Free Fare Days bill”
The Free Fare Days bill creates a pilot program to expand the ability of the Utah Transit Authority to provide public transportation for no cost on days when poor air quality is building throughout the valley. The legislature funded $500,000 for the program, which covers about seven days—a good start, and one we hope will garner broader business and community support.

HB 411: Community Renewable Energy Act, Rep. Steve Handy
In a first-of-its-kind effort, Rep. Handy worked with Salt Lake City, Park City, Moab, Summit County and Rocky Mountain Power to pass legislation to allow these municipalities to transition to providing 100% net renewable energy by 2030. It was a nail-biter at the end, but ultimately made it through at the last minute!

SB 144: Environmental Quality Monitoring Amendments, Sen. Luz Escamilla
With all the economic development to occur in the northwest quadrant of SLC, where the inland port is slated to be built, Sen. Escamilla’s bill requires monitoring of air and water quality in the area that will be critical for informing any mitigation of environmental impacts. Sound and light monitoring, which could affect bird migration, were removed from the legislation. Still, this is overall a positive step for environmental health in the region.

Air quality appropriations: $29 million in one-time funding for air quality projects
While nowhere near the full $100 million Gov. Herbert proposed, the legislature did appropriate the largest amount of funding ever towards programs to improve air quality—a big win. These programs range from wood stove conversions, developing electric vehicle infrastructure, and air quality messaging to funding a study on the links between air quality and our changing climate.

The bad:

HB 220: Radioactive Waste Amendments, Rep. Carl Albrecht
Much to our chagrin, this terrible bill quickly passed through the legislature despite pushback from the public and concerns by the Governor. HB 220 fundamentally changes the state’s nuclear waste policy by allowing class B & C waste into Utah under certain conditions, and could make it easier for EnergySolutions to bring in 800,000 tons of depleted uranium, which grows in radioactivity over time for millenia.
Local environmental groups called for a veto by the Governor, but with the inclusion of a few stopgaps, he recently allowed the bill to pass into law.

SB 248: Throughput Infrastructure Amendments, Sen. Ralph Okerlund

This bill diverts $55 million of Community Impact Board funds from community development projects to pursue a bulk commodities ocean terminal on the West Coast—aka a coal terminal—including one potentially to be built in Mexico.
Ultimately, the coal market is on the decline and Utah should focus these resources on the transition away from fossil fuels, not subsidizing development. Or use them for how they are intended—for community improvement.

HB 288: Critical Infrastructure Materials, Rep. Logan Wilde
This bill allows sand, rock and gravel pits to be classified as “critical infrastructure,” and ultimately reduces the ability of local communities to regulate the expansion of or changes to operations of these facilities. This is troubling for the communities that are or will be impacted by gravel pit development, though some changes throughout the process improved the bill from its original state.

The controversial:

HB 433: Inland Port Amendments, Rep. Francis Gibson
The development of an inland port in the northwest quadrant of SLC has been controversial since last year when the state took away the jurisdiction of the land from the city. Primary environmental concerns include impacts on air quality, water quality, bird and wetland habitat and overall health of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.
While the heart of this bill shifted the port to a hub-and-spoke model that would more directly support rural Utah and addressed issues related to taxing and administration, some nods to the environment were inserted, including recommendations for higher-tiered diesel trucks to operate within port boundaries and renewable energy requirements.

Some good bills also didn’t pass—we hope to see these come back:
HB 295 Vehicle Emissions Reduction Program
HB 413 Tax Credit for Energy Efficient Vehicles
HB 98 Freight Switcher Emissions Mitigation
SB 111 Energy Storage Innovation, Research, and Grant Program Act
SB 146 Sales Tax Exemption Modifications
HB 304 Fossil Fuels Tax Amendments (aka carbon tax)

We’re already starting to think about what can be developed and accomplished for next year, so stayed tuned for updates!

Jessica Reimer is HEAL Utah’s policy associate focusing primarily on air quality and radioactive waste.

This article was originally published on March 31, 2019.