28 days down, 17 more to go!
We are now in week 5 out of 7 of this year’s legislative session, and we are seeing a lot more movement on environmental-related legislation.
Our team is currently watching over 20 different pieces of legislation that address our air quality crisis, support a just and equitable energy transition, and protect our communities from toxic and radioactive waste.
Here is a breakdown of this week’s new, good, and not-so-good.
Let’s talk money.
During the legislative session, many bills, resolutions, and other types of legislation are presented and voted on, and while these are super important and earn a lot of attention, lawmakers are also working on figuring out where our state will direct taxpayer dollars.
Funding, in many cases, has a lot more weight. For example, say our lawmakers agree on a bill, but it has what is known as a “fiscal note.”—meaning it requires money. Unless our lawmakers agree on funding it, you could have a bill that passes through but ultimately fails in its goals due to not having funds attached.
Last week, lawmakers finished making their priority lists for funding requests. They presented them to the Executive Appropriations Committee, which will begin the budget-building process over the next two weeks and ultimately get to decide where our money goes.
Two requests for funding that our team encourages you to reach out to your lawmakers on are…
Zero-Fares: Sen. Weiler’s $25 million request to fund a statewide zero-fare transit pilot program and study for one year. HEAL Utah supports this request as we believe that when you invest in transit, you invest in the health of our communities and environment.
Currently, this request has been met with a lot of opposition due to the price tag of the request, but we have seen a lot of public support for funding zero-fare transportation. We also have seen a lot of positive data from past zero-fare campaigns like Free Fare February, which saw positive increases in ridership and decreased air pollution.
TAKE ACTION! Contact the Executive Appropriations Committee and ask them to prioritize this funding.
Ozone RFA: One funding request that we are in opposition to is Rep. Albrecht’s $2 Million request to fund Rocky Mountain Powers’ lawsuit challenging the EPA’s ruling to include Utah and Wyoming in what is known as the “Good Neighbor Rule” of the Clean Air Act.
Handout for Rocky Mountain Power: In response, Rocky Mountain Power seeks to sue the EPA for enforcing basic air quality standards. It has gone so far as to lobby the legislature to appropriate the $2 million in taxpayer money to help it fight these standards.
HEAL Utah opposes this allocation of taxpayer dollars towards an already heavily subsidized and well-funded fossil fuel corporation. Lawmakers are responsible for using public dollars to improve Utah’s quality of life, and by funding a lawsuit, our lawmakers risk wasting $2 million. Lawmakers should instead allocate funds to support coal-dependent communities transitioning towards clean energy.
TAKE ACTION: This, again, is ultimately in the hands of the Executive Appropriations Committee, which has prioritized this on its list of funding. We encourage you to reach out to this committee and let them know that you don’t want your taxpayer dollars to go toward this request!
Great Salt Lake
This year, much like last year, we have seen that while our lawmakers generally agree that more legislative action is needed to protect the Great Salt Lake, they disagree on what that action looks like.
DEAD BILLS. We have seen a few really good pieces of legislation die in committees, such as a resolution that would have simply stated the target elevation needed for the Great Salt Lake to mitigate the worst economic and ecological effects of its drying. This resolution wouldn’t have regulated anything, but it would have at least set a target, but lawmakers killed it in committee. Similarly, a bill that would have given funds to school districts to improve their energy and water efficiency also died in committee.
SMALL STEPS: We have seen some smaller efforts that will help our lake push forward, like a special Great Salt Lake license plate that will direct funds towards research and education, and a request for funding dust monitors in surrounding communities to better understand the toxic dust coming from the lakebed.
Other notable bills:
HB 286—This bill makes it possible to use sales and use tax revenues to manage GSL water levels. Current location: House Rules Committee.
H.B. 272 Water Efficient Landscaping Amendments—This bill addresses incentives to use water-efficient landscaping. Current location: House Rules Committee
So far, many clean energy-related bills have been introduced, but many of these are stuck in Rules Committees in the House or Senate. Rules Committees play the important role of deciding what committee to assign bills to, but some bills get stuck here and may never get the chance to be heard.
We are keeping a close eye on this committee as we expect a lot of bills to be assigned in the coming days.
SUPPORT: We support (HJR 11) Joint Resolution on the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), which would recognize the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in driving global climate change and the risks climate change poses to economic, human, and natural systems.
The resolution encourages the Legislature to promote or adopt SCC estimates and ensure that the cost is regularly updated to form state policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through tools like a carbon tax.
AMEND: We are encouraging our lawmakers to amend HB 301, Transportation Tax Amendments, which aims to capture taxes from out-of-state electric vehicle drivers by creating a new tax at charging stations of 8%. We encourage lawmakers to add language that will not impose another electric vehicle tax on Utah residents.
OPPOSE: We oppose HB 407, Incentives Amendments which would suddenly eliminate an important state production tax credit for any utility-scale solar and wind facility not operating by the end of this year. Eliminating the tax credit will delay and/or drive-up costs for clean energy projects under construction in Utah that still need to be completed.
This year we have seen legislation introduced to reduce air pollution from vehicles, buildings, industry, and natural sources like the Great Salt Lake.
SUPPORT: We support S.C.R 2, Concurrent Resolution Regarding the Environmental Impact of Vehicle Idling, which would encourage individuals to adopt the “Turn Your Key Be Idle Free” campaign. This bill is heading to the House floor for a final vote!
We also support House Bill 319, Uintah Basin Air Quality Research Project, which would extend and expand a successful ozone research project conducted by Utah State University. This bill is expected to pass with no issue.
Air Quality Funding Support: We also support funding requests for increased dust monitoring in communities surrounding Great Salt Lake as well as proposals to expand air quality monitoring on UTA TRAX and E-Buses to better assess air quality disparities throughout the valley. Both requests are expected to receive funding, but we recommend you reach out to the Executive Appropriations Committee to ensure they get funded.
Watching and studying:There has been legislation introduced regarding Transit Reinvestment Zones (TRZs). Our team is looking at the specifics of these bills and their implications on increased public transit and smart growth developments, and community displacement concerns.
Radioactive and Toxic waste
This year we have seen many positive steps taken to address radon-related issues in our state, from bills expanding mapping to funding free tests in rural towns.
Ways to get involved this week!
Join HEAL Utah for Studen Day on the Hill next Tuesday, February 21st! During this free lobbying training, our team will break down important environmental bills and help connect you to lawmakers to discuss both women’s rights and environmental issues. This is a free training at the Utah State Capitol, but a virtual option will also be available.
What: Student Day on the Hill
When: Tuesday, February 21, 2023, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
Where: Virtual on Zoom or In-person at the Utah State Capitol Room 210