Policy: Environment & Energy

Utah lawmakers unveil air quality proposals

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News,Science and Technology,Utah,Energy and Environment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A bipartisan group of Utah lawmakers has unveiled more than dozen proposals to tackle the state's pollution problems this year.

About 20 legislators held a news conference Wednesday afternoon while standing in the frigid smog outside Utah's Capitol.

"None of us want our air to look like it does today," said Rep. Patrice Arent, a Salt Lake City Democrat and co-chair of the Clean Air Caucus. "We don't want our cities to be listed among those that have the worst air in the nation."

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday ranked the Salt Lake region as among the most polluted areas in the U.S.

A day earlier, the state's air quality monitor issued a health alert for toxic air in northern Utah for the 23rd time this winter. That was more than the state saw last winter, which had been the worst in a decade.

The pollution problem is exacerbated in the winter and summer as high-pressure weather systems trap polluted air in northern Utah's bowl-shaped valleys.

Arent and other members of the Clean Air Caucus said they're concerned about the damage poor air quality causes to the health of Utah residents and the state's economy.

The proposals look to increase the use of cleaner burning vehicles and public transit systems and decrease practices such as wood burning.

Other proposals would help school districts pay to convert their bus fleets to run on alternative fuels and require school districts and state agencies to report their efforts to mitigate pollution.

"We really need every possible approach to improving air," said Rep. Jack Draxler, a Logan Republican. "There isn't one big sweeping solution to the air quality issue."

Republican Rep. Lowry Snow of St. George, another co-chair of the group, said he's working been working on a proposal to offer a tax credit for those who purchase electric vehicles.

"It's a great alternative and, of course, the emissions are zero for a pure-electric vehicle," he said.

His proposal would offer a $2,500 tax credit for all-electric vehicles and a $1,250 tax credit for hybrid vehicles.

Utah already has a similar tax credit for cars running on natural gas.

Another proposal dealing with electric vehicles comes from Arent.

Right now, she said, companies setting up electric charging stations can be regulated like a public utility company.

Her proposal will remove that requirement, making it easier for businesses to set up stations and for consumers to use electric vehicles.

The joint effort from Republicans and Democrats to tackle the pollution shows the Legislature is serious about the issue, Arent said.

The list of proposals was not comprehensive or complete, she said, "but it is a very important step."

The Legislature will start to take up the proposals when lawmakers return Monday for their 2014 session.

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