Utah’s short State Legislative session is both a curse and a blessing. While we often wish we had more time to convince legislators of the value of protecting our health and the environment and of working toward clean air and clean energy, fewer days also means fewer troubling pieces of legislation — inevitable given Utah’s political realities.
And so today, the morning after the session wrapped up at midnight, in many ways we breathe a sigh of relief. We look back on what ultimately was a legislative session that fell short of grand accomplishments, but which also included a slew of positive measures. Legislators voted to spend significant amounts of new money on clean air and passed measures to ease the way for many potential new rooftop solar customers.
There were some maddening setbacks too, across all of HEAL’s issues. Fortunately, however, none was as consequential as last year’s defeats, such as the $53 million Oakland coal debacle or Rocky Mountain Power’s STEP legislation.
We’ll get into a lot more detail about that below, and tell you about the bills that passed, and the ones that didn’t, but before we do let’s express some gratitude.
First, you might be surprised to find out that even though I’m HEAL’s executive director, I spend little time at the Capitol these days. That’s partly because there’s a lot to do back at the office to keep the mothership afloat, but it’s also because we have two fantastic and experienced staff members who are more than capable of acting as HEAL’s representatives, lobbyists and champions. So thank you to our crack policy staffers Ashley Soltysiak and Michael Shea for surviving and thriving during the 2017 session. Danke!
Secondly, one of HEAL’s goals this year was to involve more citizen lobbyists. And we succeeded! Roughly 30-40 Utahns of all ages and backgrounds pitched in and joined Michael and Ashley up on the Hill. Nearly every day, we had several of you joining us, filling out those pesky slips and engaging with legislators, urging them to do the right thing. The success we had would not have been possible without that extra help. Grazie!
Lastly, we want to thank all of you who sent emails and made phone calls to your legislators this session. As of course you know, we send out a blizzard of email action alerts, text alerts and Facebook posts urging you to click here and call there. And this session, we generated over 5,300 emails to legislators. And that doesn’t count all the phone calls or personal emails that you also made. Arigato!
OK, before we describe the different bills, I want to make sure everyone realizes that this is not the last chance for you to make a difference in 2017. In fact, we believe that our most important fights this year will actually happen outside of the State Legislature. You’re going to hear a LOT more about these in the months to come, but here’s a quick preview. First, the Public Service Commission, over roughly the next four to six months, will determine the fate of rooftop solar in the state of Utah. Their ruling on Rocky Mountain Power’s bid to strangle solar will be hugely consequential.
Secondly, the state of Utah is putting together its plan to address our wintertime inversion problem. From now until the end of December, they will be gathering input, evaluating strategies and proposing remedies. We plan to be involved every step of the way.
So stay tuned! Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what happened in 2017.
The below list may not dazzle you, but given that Utah is such a red state — remember, 83 percent of Utah’s 104 state legislators are Republicans — and given that environmental issues have sadly become one of the most partisan issues in modern American politics, we are proud of these accomplishments. HEAL staff, volunteers and supporters worked hard on many of these bills.
- SB154, “Solar Access Amendments.” A pro-solar bill — this measure will make it easier for residents of Homeowners Associations to install rooftop solar systems. It narrows the restrictions that HOAs can put in place to limit solar. They won’t be able, for example, to ban solar because it isn’t pretty. (Who finds solar panels ugly? I mean other than Rocky Mountain Power?)
- “Air Quality Monitoring Appropriations.” Thanks particularly to the efforts of Rep. Patrice Arent, an additional $1.3 million will be spent to upgrade Utah’s monitoring equipment with an additional $150,000 annually to ensure we have accurate data about our pollution problems. Plus even more for research!
- HB96, “Petroleum Vapor Recovery Amendments,” increases the penalties for drivers of petroleum tankers who intentionally fail to use vapor recovery equipment when filling their rigs.
- HB183, “Emissions Settlement Amendments,” creates a process to spend the approximately $35 million Utah will receive as part of its settlement with Volkswagen, which intentionally rigged diesel emissions tests. The Division of Air Quality will administer the funds.
- HB297, “Renewable Energy Amendments,” is an important clean energy bill. It allows businesses and government entities to contract with out-of-state renewable energy providers. The existing law only allowed for in state contracts.
- HB104, “Motor Vehicle Amendments,” allows local governments to use money that has been collected as part of vehicle registration fees forstrategies to reduce emissions.
- SB273, “Energy Development Amendments,” is designed to improve Utah’s C-PACE program, an innovative financing mechanism that can spur energy efficiency improvements in commercial buildings.
Time to take the optimist hat off and acknowledge this session did have its low moments — especially when it comes to bills that affect air quality.
- HB134, “Emissions Testing Amendments.” This one hurt! And begs for slightly more explanation. The bill that HEAL did the most work on not just during the legislative session, but for months leading up to it, was this measure to require that any county which has an emissions testing program also tests diesel vehicles. The bill passed the House and unanimously passed a Senate committee. But in a confusing legislative maneuver, one House member, Rep. Frances Gibson, was able to exert his influence as a member of leadership to keep it from ever receiving a full Senate vote. We were hopeful up until the last minute last night, but maddeningly this measure which Ashley, in particular, poured hundreds of hours into never got the final vote it needed. Grrrrrr.
- HB29, “Energy Efficient Vehicle Tax Credit,” would have reinstated Utah’s tax credit for electric vehicles, but unfortunately failed by one vote in front of the full House.
- HB11, “State Boards and Commissions Amendments,” is a measure which HEAL opposed, but which passed. It removes the statutory requirement that not all the people appointed to serve on Utah’s state boards and commissions be from just one political party. HEAL and our allies argued that it’s important that the members of critical bodies like the Air Quality Board and Public Service Commission represent the concerns of ALL Utahns, but legislators apparently disagreed.
- HB65, “Air Conservation Act Amendments,” is another bad bill which passed. It forbids state regulators from ever passing rules limiting the burning of wood in food preparation. In other words, if this bill passes, you could build a bonfire in your backyard on the winter’s worst smog day – as long as you have a marshmallow handy!
- However, for both HB11 and HB65, all is not lost! They’ve passed the Legislature, but not yet been signed by the Governor. Please urge Gov. Herbert to veto both HB 11 and HB 65. You can call his office at 801-538-1000. Do it now! It only takes a moment.
- SJR09, “Joint Resolution on Climate Change,” & HJR18, “Joint Resolution on Economic and Environmental Stewardship,” were a pair of bills which offered up moderate but heartfelt statements on climate change, urging action to mitigate its impacts. The former couldn’t even get a hearing, while the latter failed to pass a House committee, after a 5-5 vote.
STEPS IN PLACE
Several bills passed this session which we have mixed feelings about.
- HB23, “Income Tax Credit Modifications,” phases out Utah’s $2,000 rooftop solar tax credit. That’s not good, but at one point during the session, this bill was much worse than the final version, which maintains the full credit in 2017 and slowly ratchets it down before it goes away entirely in 2022.
- SB197, “Refinery Sales and Use Tax Exemption Amendments,” offers Utah refineries financial incentives to encourage them to produce so-called Tier 3 gas which will lead to reduced emissions. That sounds great, but the reality is most of Utah’s refineries we’re going to do so anyway, so this bill feels a bit like a mix of good public policy and a corporate giveaway.
OK, that’s a long email! Again, we appreciate everyone’s hard work this session — and look forward to your support on more key work in the months to come.
Lastly, if you want more hot legislative recap talk, tune into our Capitol Report today. Michael and Ashley will tell you more about everything that went down. Stream it on Facebook Live or call (805)309-2350 and enter code 112-3337#
HEAL Utah Executive Director, Matt Pacenza