Legislative Week One: A Touch of Madness!

Well it is that time of year again folks: The annual session of the Utah State Legislature has begun! 

Thank you very much for your interest in special Legislative Updates. We’ll write them roughly once a week for this first part of the session, and then more frequently as we near the end.

So far, it’s not clear what kind of session 2017 will be for those of us who care about public health and the environment. Some good bills; some not-so good. If you want to see the rundown of what we are prioritizing this session click here to view HEAL’s 2017 legislative bill tracker

Here’s a quick overview of the action we saw during this first week and what we’ve got on our radar for the next. If you’re interested in supporting some of the good bills that will soon face votes, please click here to send a message to your Senator and Representative.

First, a positive bill moved out of committee:

HB104 – Motor Vehicle Emission, by new Rep. Logan Wilde (R- Croydon) is a positive air quality bill, which allows excess funds generated from emissions testing programs to be used to support the enforcement of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This bill passed through the House Transportation Committee and now moves for consideration by the full House.

Unfortunately, several other bills we oppose had success this week:  

HB11 – State Boards and Commissions Amendments, from Rep. Norman Thurston (R- Provo) would eliminate the requirement that separate 29 boards and commissions include political diversity. (Current law requires that at least a few members of each board aren’t registered Republicans.) When it comes to HEAL’s work, this could weaken diversity on such key bodies as the Air Quality and Water Quality Boards, as well as the Public Service Commission. This troubling bill passed the House Government Operations Committee and now moves to a full House vote. 

HB65 – Air Conservation Amendments, from Rep. Mike Schultz (R-Hooper) passed the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee in an 8-1 landslide. This bad air quality bill sets a poor precedent by restricting the ability of the experts at the Division of Air Quality from ever proposing a rule restricting wood burning for cooking food.  This feels like a solution hunting for a problem, since the state officials haven’t focused on backyard BBQs, as most folks aren’t smoking pork shoulders much in the winter — when our inversion season peaks. The real problem with the bill is the notion that the legislature should be preempting the data driven rulemaking process at the Division of Air Quality. We need to let our air quality professionals be willing to consider any and all solutions, instead of tying their hands to please special interest groups. The bill now moves to a House floor vote. 

SB79 – Waste Management Amendments, from Sen. Stuart Adams (R-Layton) is a derivation of a bill we sadly seem to see every session. This bill is a renewed attempt from nuclear waste giant EnergySolutions to lower the amount that the company pays into several different funds designed to pay take care of the site if the company ever goes bankrupt. (Generally, nuclear waste lasts longer than companies do.) This means that if EnergySolutions does ever shut down, any excess costs of cleanup and maintenance wouid burden Utah state taxpayers. Interesting timing given that the company has also recently renewed their bid to bring 700,000 tons of depleted uranium, an extremely long-lived nuclear waste byproduct, to Utah. This bill passed a Senate committee and now moves to the full Senate for consideration. 

So, not the best first week, but don’t despair! (Frankly, it is far too early for that…) We’ve got some great bills that we expect will be heard next week. 

HB29 – Energy Efficient Vehicle Tax Credits, from Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton) will be heard before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Tuesday, January 31.  This bill renews the electric vehicle tax credit, which was quashed at the end of last year’s legislative session. While Utah ranks in the top 10 states for EV adoption, these clean vehicles still represent less than one percent of the vehicles on Utah’s roads today. That means, that this tax credit to critical for getting more people into cleaner vehicles faster. 

HB134  – Emissions Testing Amendments, from Rep. Patrice Arent (D – Salt Lake City) is another positive initiative impacting vehicle emissions. It requires counties that already do emissions testing to also test diesel cars and rucks. (Hard to believe this isn’t already the law!) We anticipate a committee will hear this bill as early as late next week. 

So, that’s week one, but stay tuned for all of the madness to come. 

What can you do?

•Please click here to send your Sen and Rep a message urging them to vote “clean air” this session. We’re expecting an inversion to build this weekend into early next week, so now’s a great to make this plea.

•Please subscribe to our Clean Air Text Action Network by texting the phrase “cleanair” to 41411. You’ll receive additional action alerts that way.

•Please also consider joining HEAL’s crack policy team (aka Michael and I) at the legislature to help us lobby for the good bills and against the bad ones. Now, more than ever, we need your voice and your support! If you’re interested, just reply back to this email or email our new organizer Noah Miterko who will let you know when we can use your help.

In Solidarity,

Ashley Soltysiak | HEAL Policy Dictator… errr… Director.