Blog: Our First-Week-of-the-Session Legislative Update!

It’s a hazy Friday in Salt Lake City.

What’s also hazy are the prospects for clean air and clean energy policies at the 2016 State Legislature – which has just finished its first week of work. Below, I’m going to share HEAL’s first Legislative Update, written by our Senior Policy Associate Ashley Soltysiak, with the inside scoop on key environmental issues this session.

If you’d like to get the rest of our Legislative Updates from Ashley and our new co-worker Michael Shea, pleaseclick here. We’ll send those to folks who sign up roughly once a week, perhaps a bit more later in the session as everything heats up.

 While I’m at it, I’d like to encourage those of you interested in finding out about the many ways you can help push for good policies to join our new Citizen Activist Program. We’ll also send that list weekly emails, with links to action alerts, information about upcoming hearings and more.

 Lastly, we have exciting news: We’ve added a new activist tool to our arsenal: A text network! We’ve joined with our fellow clean air groups to create a system where we’ll send you a text or two each week with a link or easy instructions on how you can do something to support clean air policies. To join, all you have to do is text CLEANAIR (one word) to 41411. That’s it!

 OK, let’s turn this over to Ashley for our first 2016 Legislative Update:

 This week, the HEAL policy team rolled up our sleeves and headed up to the Hill. So far, the 2016 legislative session is shaping up to be doozy.

We take heart this first week in an early victory (of sorts.)  Two bills from Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City) came up before the Senate Natural Resource committee. One passed, in a slightly watered-down fashion. SB49 gives the state more time to prosecute companies that violate their air quality permits, extending the statute of limitations from only one year to two. We’ll take it! Please click here to urge your Senator to vote for SB49 when it hits the Senate floor. Her other bill, which would increase fines for polluters who violate their permit limits, was tabled for now.

Those were the only bills to see action this week, so we thought we’d give you a quick summary of the other legislation — the good, bad and downright ugly  — we expect this session. A quick note: When available, we’ll include bill names, numbers and sponsors.  Not all that info is out yet.

Let’s start with the good bills:

  • First is Air Quality Amendments from Rep. Ed Redd (R-Logan). This would revivethe ultra-low NOx water heater rule that the Air Quality Board passed this fall, which was then squashed by a legislative committee. Rep. Redd’s bill would undo this damage and let Utahn’s reap the benefits of cleaner burning water heaters.  
  • Then, we’ve got a trio of bills to incentivize solar. One bill would legalize a type of solar lease called a Power Purchase Agreement. This is a popular model used by companies like Vivint Solar and Solar City which could make solar more affordable to a wider range of customers.
  • A second bill, by Rep. Lowry Snow (R-St. George), would prevent Home Owner Associations from barring rooftop solar installation. The third bill would exempt rooftop solar owners and leasers from paying property and sales taxes on their installations, an incentive 15 other states have. If passed, this trifecta could bea major boon to solar development in the state – especially important given Rocky Mountain Power’s efforts to yank us in the other direction.
  • Also, HEAL supports HB121 from Fred Cox (R-West Valley City), which wouldupgrade the state’s building codes to a 2015 standard. This would make new homes 15-20% more efficient than our current (2006) codes. Finally!
  • Next, Rep. Steve Handy (R-Layton) is also running HB87, which would extend our current state tax credits for electric, hybrid and natural vehicles and sets up a fund for folks who convert their vehicles to cleaner burning technology.
  • Finally is “Income Tax Contribution for Clean Air” from Rep. Patrice Arent (D-Millcreek) which creates a dedicated source of air quality funding through a simple tax check off. Since we currently do NOT have any dedicated yearly funding for air quality this could lead to an important revenue source for an underfunded division.

But this session is of course not without a few bad apples. Here’s the bills that endanger our efforts to support clean air and clean energy which HEAL will be fighting:

  • First up, is Building Code Review and Adoption Amendments from Rep. Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville). This bill delays how often we update our building code, which includes important energy efficiency measures. This means increased energy costs and more emissions. A true lose, lose.
  • Next is a bill from Rocky Mountain Power. STEP, or the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan, is being billed by the company as big push toward a more sustainable energy policy in Utah, but don’t be fooled. Buried in the bill areregulatory changes that would ultimately net Rocky Mountain Power (and cost ratepayers) millions.  Plus it would bypass the regulatory panel that sometimes keeps them in check, the Public Service Commission. And while the bill has a few clean air carrots, other pieces would harm environmental interests. You’ll hear a lot more about this as the session moves forward.
  • Finally, no list of bad bills would be complete without an appearance from Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan). He’s pitching the “Ratepayer Protection Act,” which wouldstop (or at least slow down) Utah’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s program to reduce the carbon output of our electricity sector. Lovely. 

So, it’s shaping up to be a very busy session. As always we need your help! To follow along with all of our legislative priorities, check out our online bill tracker and sign up for our Legislative Updates (you won’t get any more of these updates unless you do!)  

And as mentioned above, to subscribe to a brand spanking new Clean Air Action Network, text “cleanair” to 41411.

 In Solidarity,

 Ashley Soltysiak | Senior Policy Associate & Legislative Hardballer