Environmental Politics, Think
Utah’s 2020 legislative session
Ends on March12. The final days are the busiest.
At this point in Utah’s 45-day legislative session, most bills have been introduced. Some have been moving positively through the lawmaking process; others haven’t made any movement yet. Then in the first two weeks of March, as the session nears closing, things move so fast you can get whiplash. The final day of the session often goes until midnight, with legislators passing laws up until the last seconds of 11:59pm.
A good year for energy
Bills focused on incentivizing clean energy are so far doing well.
Senator Lincoln Fillmore’s Energy Storage Innovation, Research, and Grant Program (SB0078), which creates a grant program for things like the deployment of and innovation in energy storage technology, passed out of the Senate and is making its way through the House. While this bill did well when Senator Fillmore ran it in 2019, it did not receive any of the $5 million in funding the bill requests in order to make the grant program a reality. Allocating money to bills, a process known as appropriations, typically doesn’t happen until the end of the session so there’s no telling right now whether it will get funded this year.
A similar bill, Senator Derek Kitchen’s Electric Energy Storage Tax Credit (SB0077), which creates an income tax rebate for energy storage systems, is on its final steps in the Senate and will hopefully make its way to the House soon.
Senator Ronald Winterton’s Sales and Use Tax Modifications (SB0041) would exempt the oil and gas industry from sales and use taxes but legislators seem to have the state’s audit of the oil and gas industry, which found that the industry has barley paid any fines for exceeding emissions standards over the last 20 years, fresh on their minds. This bill hasn’t made any progress yet and environmental advocates at the Capitol are hoping it stays this way.
This year, legislators are going pedal to the metal on bills to address emissions that come from vehicles. As the largest source of emissions along the Wasatch Front, addressing the pollution caused by cars and trucks is vital to cleaning the air.
For example, Representative Suzanne Harrison has introduced a bill to create an income tax credit for certain alternative fuel vehicles (HB0281 Tax Credit for Alternative Fuel Vehicles), Representative Jeffrey Stenquist is sponsoring a bill to help Utahns replace vehicles that fail emissions tests with cleaner ones (HB0176 Vehicle Emissions Reduction Program), and Representative Cory Maloy’s emissions test fee exemption for electric vehicles (HB0180 Emission Inspection Revisions) has already passed out of the House. And that’s just to name a few of the great cleaner vehicle bills running this session!
Like last year, everyone is closely watching air quality appropriations. Governor Gary Herbert proposed $100 million for air quality programs and legislators heard him loud and clear, with Representative Robert Spendlove’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure appropriation request asking for $66 million to fund electric vehicle charging infrastructure and another appropriation request for $34 million to fund improvements for transit.
Hello EnergySolutions, my old friend
If you are from the state or follow groups like HEAL Utah or the Utah Sierra Club, you might be familiar with the company called EnergySolutions (formerly known as EnviroCare). This company is one of the biggest processors and handlers of radioactive waste in the world. They are also one of the largest campaign contributors to Utah legislators and they have a habit of getting their way when it comes to bills related to radioactive waste.
This year, their scent is all over Representative Casey Snider’s HB233 Natural Resources Legacy Funding Amendments. This bill would create a new board, even though similar boards already exist, that would focus on habitat, open spaces and species.
However, this bill looks to fund the board by creating a tax on depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is a highly contested form of radioactive waste not currently allowed in the state. For the last decade, EnergySolutions has fought to dump this waste in the west desert while the Department of Environmental Quality has sought clarity into this waste and advocates have worked to stop it from ever coming in.
The reason this waste is controversial is that it starts off as low-level waste, which can be stored in Utah, but it becomes increasingly radioactive and eventually exceeds the limits of what can be legally brought into the state.
Much like the name EnergySolutions, this bill is greenwashing a bad actor and laying the foundation for Utah to accept depleted uranium even before regulators and scientists at the Department of Environmental Quality make a decision on this waste.
If any of these bills make you happy and hopeful for our state, call your legislators and thank them. If any of these bills make you mad and worried for our future, call your legislators and urge them to oppose that bill.
You can find your legislator and their contact information at le.utah.gov. By calling, texting, or emailing your lawmaker, you can influence the outcome of this legislative session. And by getting your friends and family to reach out too, your voice can be amplified even more.
As a reminder, every bill that gets passed by the legislature ends up on the Governor’s desk, where the Governor must sign the bill into law, veto it, or do nothing and allow it to automatically become law 60 days after the session ends. This means that you shouldn’t just reach out to your representative and senator, you should reach out to the Governor and encourage them to take certain actions too.
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.