PRESS RELEASE: Utah Legislature Prioritizes Industry Over Clean Air

Utah Legislature Prioritizes Industry Over Clean Air
Utah Senator introduces a bill that benefits refineries

March 4, 2020, Salt Lake City, UT – Today, Senate Bill 239 Refinery Sales Tax Exemptions, was published at the urging from refineries and their corporate parents. This bill gives industry handouts at the expense of taxpayers.

In 2017, the legislature passed a sales tax exemption to encourage, but not require, Utah refineries to start producing Tier 3 gasoline in Utah by 2020 to help comply with upcoming Environmental Protection Agency standards. All refineries were automatically qualified for this sales tax exemption. Under this law, a refinery can only qualify for this sales tax exemption if they are producing Tier 3 gasoline by July 1, 2021, or if they begin to produce it after that date, in which case they can requalify for the tax exemption.

Tier 3 gasoline is a fuel that creates less harmful air emissions than lesser tiered fuels do. In newer vehicles, Tier 3 gasoline can reduce emissions up to 80%, while in older vehicles this fuel can still reduce emissions up to 12%.

SB0239, sponsored by Senator Ralph Okerlund, allows Utah refineries like Big West to continue recovering a tax break until 2024 without providing the much needed benefit of cleaner Tier 3 gasoline to Utah.

“Refineries in Utah have had plenty of time and opportunity to produce Tier 3 gasoline, as shown by the fact that three of the five refineries in Utah are already producing this cleaner fuel,” said Dr. Scott Williams, Executive Director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. “While the laggards in the industry might be trying to buy more time, even if just a year, the citizens of Utah don’t have any time to spare to breathe cleaner air. If Senate Bill 239 passes, it will mean that the state legislature is prioritizing industrial interests above the health of Utah families.”

In the fall of 2019, some – but not all – of Utah’s refineries began producing Tier 3 gasoline, something which Governor Gary Herbert has been touting, even saying, “You can get a hot dog…Finish it off with a Krispy Kreme doughnut and a drink –  and fill up with Tier 3 fuels. You’ll be happy and your automobile with be happy. And your neighbors will be happy because we know we’re going to have cleaner air.”

“Extending this tax break, which would leave individuals to shoulder the costs, is unacceptable. Burning fossil fuel continues to worsen Utah’s air, and the Tier 3 tax exemption was set in place to make it easier to improve the state’s air quality at a low cost to companies’ bottom line,” said Carly Ferro, Interim Director of the Utah Sierra Club. “But still, a few companies are looking for an extended handout to reward their lack of initiative and bad behavior in a last-minute move that should raise red flags for legislators and community members. It is shameful that some refiners are now asking Utah policymakers to change a tax incentive, offering benefits to few and levying an unfair and unhealthy burden on the many. We will not stand to let this happen.”

The Utah State Senate and House have six days left in the 2020 legislative session in which they can pass or stop this bill, and then Governor Herbert will have the option to veto this bill, sign this bill into law, or do nothing and allow it to automatically become law after 60 days.

About the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah: The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) has been an environmental advocacy organization, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah since 1999. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and developing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. The organization focuses on clean air, energy and climate, and radioactive waste. HEAL uses well-researched legislative, regulatory, and individual responsibility approaches to create tangible change, and then utilizes grassroots action to make it happen. www.healutah.org.

About the Utah Sierra Club: The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.