Utah’s 2020 legislative session is here

By Grace Olscamp

Here’s a peek at some environmental-related bills

The end of January hails the beginning of the Utah state legislative session. For 45 days, till mid-March, 75 state legislators and 29 state senators are gathered on Salt Lake City’s Capitol Hill to consider, debate, reject, and pass bills into law.

New bills continually come out during the first half of the session. Some will make it onto the governor’s desk and some will die before they see the light of day. It’s our job, as citizens, to ensure that the good bills move through the process and become law and that the bad bills get stopped in their tracks.

Here are just some of the environmental bills running during the 2020 legislative session.

Incentivizing energy storage

The key to the renewable energy revolution is energy storage. When more energy is being produced (say, from solar and wind) than is being used, that energy can be stored for use at a later time if the technology is in place. Energy storage will help make the electric grid more resilient and deploy clean energy to our homes.

Creating incentives for new technology is commonplace—incentives helped skyrocket the wind and solar industries. This year, Sen. Derek Kitchen (D-District 2) is running a bill that creates utility and residential tax incentives for energy storage technologies in order to innovate the industry and make it more accessible.

Setting statewide renewable goals

According to the recently released Utah Roadmap Study by the Kem C. Gardner Institute, Utah’s reliance on coal is almost twice that of other states (measured by carbon dioxide emissions of different fuel types). Coal accounts for nearly half of Utah’s carbon dioxide emissions. Weaning off of coal is one of the most effective methods to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

Rep. Ray Ward’s (R-House District 19) Clean and Renewable Energy Requirement Amendments create a standard for utilities to be generating 50% of their electricity from renewables by a certain date. It also expands the definition of “renewables” to include (in addition to solar and wind)  geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear. Many advocates are encouraging nuclear to be taken off the table due to the vast amounts of dangerous radioactive waste it produces.

Speaking of the Utah Roadmap Study…

Last year, the Utah Legislature appropriated $200,000 for the Kem C. Gardner Institute to study and make recommendations on solutions for air pollution and climate change. A draft of the study was released in January, with a few weeks allowed for public comment.

The top high-level recommendations (supplemented by specific policies or actions) include:

  1. Adopt emissions reduction goals and measure results 
  2. Lead by example 
  3. Create a premiere air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory
  4. Accelerate growth efforts 
  5. Position Utah as a market-based electric vehicle state 
  6. Provide economic transition assistance to rural communities and 
  7. Participate in national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions

Air quality appropriations

Every year, the governor releases a budget that the state legislature, through appropriations, decides what and how to fund. Last year, Governor Herbert proposed $100 million for one-time air quality programs. Though the legislature funded only $29 million from that original proposal, it was still well over $25 million more than ever before.

This year’s proposed budget includes yet another $100 million for air quality. But this year, Governor Herbert specifically recommends that $34 million go to transit and $66 million go to increasing electric vehicle infrastructure across the state. The proposal is in line with the Governor’s goals of reducing per capita emissions by 25% by 2026. Now it’s up to the legislature to decide how much of that $100 million they will actually fund.

And now the bad…

There’s always one or two or 10 bills that will do more harm than good. This year, the first bad bill to rear its head is one that is estimated to cost the state nearly $49 million in lost tax revenue over the next 10 years. The Sales and Use Tax Modifications bill, run by Sen. Ronald Winterton (R-District 26), gives a hefty sales tax exemption on oil and gas production in the state.

Not only has the oil and gas industry been federally subsidized for decades but a state audit in 2019 found that Utah’s oil and gas industry has been out of compliance for their methane emissions since the 1990s yet has seen virtually no fines during that whole time.

A lot happens during the session and it can be overwhelming to keep track of it on your own. It’s the only time of year that laws are made at the state level in Utah and each legislator is pushing for their bills to become law.

Following groups like the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah), the Utah Sierra Club, Action Utah, and the Utah Rivers Council will allow you to stay in the loop with every bill you care about on their legislative trackers, emails, events, and social media accounts.

You can take your advocacy to the next level by not just following these groups but by responding to their call for citizens to raise their voices. Fill out any action alerts you see, call and email your legislators regularly, and even join groups like HEAL Utah at the Capitol to lobby your legislators in-person (we promise they don’t bite).

Any way you can get involved during the legislative session will help build a better future for everyone in Utah and will make a difference for the future of our planet.

Grace Olscamp works at the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah). She is also a dog lover, a very amateur baker, and an avid reader.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2020.