CLEAN AIR ACTIVISTS CALL UPON LEGISLATURE TO PRIORITIZE AIR BILLS IN MIDST OF POLLUTION CRISIS
URGE ACTION ON BILLS ADDRESSING INDUSTRY, BUILDINGS AND VEHICLE POLLUTION
Utah’s air quality advocacy community urged Gov. Gary Herbert and the State Legislature to move quickly to pass significant clean air legislation during the 2016 session, as a dreadful “red air” day settled upon northern Utah’s valleys.
This current legislative session offers several critical opportunities to address our air quality crisis, said Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director – and there’s no doubt the public wants action.
“We have a chance to pass bills that can limit dangerous pollution from our homes, our cars and our industry,” said Pacenza. “The public has made very clear we want bold and immediate action. Time to stop stalling and get to work.”
As of 9 am Wednesday, the state’s official air quality monitoring station showed levels of the dangerous particle PM2.5 at 67.4, well into the “red air” zone. Advocates also pointed out that the sensors from the independent Purple Air network show levels as high as 95.
“Short term spikes in air pollution, like what we are experiencing now, have long term, even life-long consequences for everyone, but especially for newborns, infants and pregnant mothers,” said Dr. Brian Moench founder and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “This is a serious public health hazard.”
One bill – SB49, “Statute of Limitations on Environmental Code Violations,” which would give state officials more time to prosecute polluting industries that knowingly violate the law – is expected to face a full Senate vote today.
“Our children are forced to stay indoors for their own health,” noted Ingrid Griffee of Utah Moms for Clean Air. “And our lawmakers have to debate whether or not to give the state tools to prosecute negligent polluters? It’s shameful.”
A range of other bills are expected to move to committee and floor votes in the coming weeks, but each faces resistance from powerful sectors, such as the trade associations that represent industry, homebuilders and realtors. Legislators need to put air quality first — and be willing to reject the short-sighted self-interest of business groups, advocates say.
“We have to question whether or not to mandate less-polluting water heaters? Our elected representatives should be boldly advocating on behalf of our basic health, not bending to the wishes of a few powerful special interests,” Griffee added.
In addition to SB49, here are several bills that advocates urge action on:
- HB250, Air Quality Amendments from Rep. Ed Redd (R-Logan). This would revive the 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.
- HB121 from Rep. Fred Cox (R-West Valley City) would upgrade the state’s building codes to a 2015 standard. This would make new homes 15-20% more efficient than our current (2006) codes.
- HB87 from Rep. Steve Handy (R-Layton) would extend our current state tax credits for electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles and sets up a fund for folks who convert their vehicles to cleaner burning technology.
- A trio of bills to incentivize solar. HB244 from Rep. Gibson 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. Another bill from Rep. Snow would prevent HOAs from restricting rooftop solar. 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.
- HB237 from Rep. Patrice Arent 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.
- Finally, via the appropriations process, legislators will have a chance to apportion funding for new lab equipment for state air scientists, for funding for the CARROT program and for cleaner school buses.
“Utahns have spoken time and time again. This bad air and what it does to the health of Utahns IS the issue they want addressed.,” said Tim Wagner, Executive Director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “Good proposals have come forward to reduce emissions from big polluters or to enable all Utahns to take more individual actions. Yet time and time again, the legislature has proven to be the biggest hurdle in meaningful progress, and that is no longer acceptable.”
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