This may not have been the worst session we’ve ever had (we did get some positive measures on clean air and rooftop solar) but it was certainly the most complicated. Several of the key bills that HEAL worked intensively on were sprawling legislative packages which were repeatedly amended: Day by day, we had new language to pour over and interpret.
Before I run down our successes and failures this session in the air and energy issues HEAL worked so hard on (this year, thankfully, no action on the nuclear issues we work on), let’s stop and do some quick Oscar-style gratitude:
- I want to thank HEAL staffers Ashley Soltysiak and Michael Shea, who did a fantastic job these past 45 days. Ashley is in her second year up on the Hill and Michael his first, but they lobbied, strategized, agitated and pleaded like a pair of seasoned pros. Truth is, very few of Utah’s many environmental groups have staff who work full time at the Legislature. And HEAL has not just one good one, but TWO.
- And let’s thank YOU! We just tallied up how many messages our action alert system sent to Utah legislators this session. Guess. Nope, more! More! That’s right, we sent FORTY FIVE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THREE emails to legislators. 45,673. Well done!
OK, so what’s the lowdown?
- A really good rooftop solar bill passed. HB244 from Rep. Frances Gibson legalizes a type of solar lease called a Power Purchase Agreement. This is a popular model used by companies like Lehi-based Vivint Solar and Solar City which will make Utah solar more affordable to a wider range of customers. Yea!
- Our hot water heaters will soon be much cleaner. This is complicated, but two different bills (HB250 and HB316) will work together to make it so that as of 2018, only ultra low NOx water heaters will be sold in Utah. This bill will help our state regulators reduce dangerous NOx emissions by 2,700 tons a year, the same as if we removed 300,000 vehicles from Utah roadways. That’s a VERY positive clean air measure.
- Legislators also toughened rules on industrial polluters (SB49),created a new funding source for clean air programs (HB237), extended tax credits to support natural gas and electric vehicles (HB87), boosted electric vehicle charging infrastructure (HB130) and dedicated funding to help businesses buy pollution control equipment (SB186.)
- A bad coal bill passed. SB246 which would spend $53 million of taxpayer money to pay for the Oakland Coal Export Terminal, passed on Thursday, the final day. SB246 was a last minute bill rushed through the Legislature, yet passed both houses easily in the final week. There’s been great journalism on why this proposal is so misguided already: see articles in the East Bay Express and the LA Times and then on Thursday, the Express also broke the story that the coal mining company behind the bill has generously contributed to the campaigns of senior legislators and the Governor. Sigh.
- A bad utility bill passed. We’re still reeling with what happened with Rocky Mountain Power’s huge, complex “STEP” bill. SB115 includes significant changes to the policies that govern the utility, plus specific initiatives the utility says are aimed at cleaner air and economic development. But the bill includes some elements that would actually work counter to environmental interests – and we believe as a whole it will be quite costly to ratepayers. So we opposed the bill, along with a big coalition, and celebrated Thursday afternoon when it failed it’s House vote 34-40. Woo hoo! But then the House broke for dinner and apparently Rocky Mountain Power’s army of lobbyists went to work. And, after dinner, the bill unusually was “reconsidered” and passed 46-26. Aarrggh.
- The legislature failed to pass strong building code updates. HB316 was another one of those big, complex packages. And, to its credit, it does help institute the cleaner water heater requirement. But, in addition, the bill will only require modest improvements in the efficiency of new homes in Utah — measures that could have helped us reduce emissions. HEAL and our allies fought hard to get even those improvements, but the bill that did pass falls far short of what we had hoped for going into the session. And it has a few other troubling elements.
- A bad water bill passed. SB80 isn’t a bill that HEAL worked on intensively — groups like Utah Rivers Council focus more directly on water issues — but as environmentalists, we too bemoan the legislature’s decision to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax to build massive, unnecessary water diversion projects that will drain water from an already over-taxed system.
- Air quality funding fell short. This year, the Legislature decided it couldn’t fully fund requests for the purchase of modern air quality testing equipment, or to replace aging and dirty school buses, or to help people and businesses buy cleaner machines. This lack of funding, of course, wasn’t an issue when huge water and coal projects that cost hundreds times more got money.
Look closely, and you’ll notice an interesting pattern above. We identified three bills as particularly “bad.” All three — addressing coal, water and utility policy — passed. And all three were introduced by the same legislator, Layton Republican Senator Stuart Adams.
We’re not one to talk in black-and-white terms about good and evil when it comes to our work: Life and politics are riddled with shades of grey. But Sen. Adams, who I’ve just decided to dub the “Dastardly Diablo of Davis County,” you’re testing that resolve. The “Lucifer of Layton,” perhaps?
Just in case you didn’t read our last email, Adams — in addition to pushing the worst bills this session — had something staggering to say about climate change earlier this week. Before we wearily sign off, let’s go on ahead and plop that quote in here one final time. This was during the “debate” on SB115, the Rocky Mountain Power bill. Adams shared a conversation he had with a “scientist” friend of his.
“He says that coal is not the problem, energy is the problem. He says whether you generate energy from coal, or you generate energy from solar, is not really the issue. He says the issue is that your air conditioner produces heat; your clothes dryer generates heat; your blow dryer generates heat; your furnace generates heat. That warms the atmosphere. Whether it comes from coal or solar is so microscopically different, it doesn’t make a bit of difference on global warming.”
Sooooo, there you have it.
Tomorrow will be a brighter day,
HEAL Utah Executive Director and Bestower of Deliberately Mean Nicknames