SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, said the Utah Legislature's clean air caucus couldn't have picked a better, or worse, day Thursday to announce a number of clean air initiatives — a day when the state was struggling through one of its worst inversions.
Shiozawa said he is running a resolution to encourage Utah consumers to purchase cars with the highest smog rating possible to reduce emissions — one of multiple ways lawmakers plan to push forward in the battle for clean air.
"It's a simple resolution, it makes sense, and it is something I hope we embrace as a state," he said.
The caucus, said founder and co-chairwoman Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, was established nearly four years ago, and lawmakers in that time have passed more clean air legislation than at any other point in the state's history.
"Our air quality has improved, but we need to do more," Arent said.
The "more" planned for this legislative session tackles the problem on a variety of fronts:
• Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, wants $20 million to replace dirty diesel school buses. The money would come from the Volkswagen settlement reached with a federal district court.
• Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, wants $2.5 million in ongoing funding to help the Utah Transit Authority pay for a new facility for a fleetwide conversion to electric and natural gas buses. Such a conversion — not possible without the new facility — would result in an 85 percent reduction in emissions, Schultz said.
• Senate Assistant Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, is running a bill to ensure the state's planned new prison is constructed using best practices to mitigate resulting air pollution from construction activities. She also wants transparency incorporated into the process to assure area residents of what is being done.
Other measures include the requirement of emissions testing in nonattainment areas on certain diesel vehicles, and making vapor recovery a must for trucks with gasoline cargo tankers. The vapor recovery bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, advanced out of a committee hearing earlier this week.
Eliason also wants to put in place a program that helps people repair or replace vehicles that fail to pass emission tests in nonattainment areas.
Spending priorities during this legislative session aimed at boosting Utah's efforts on the clean air front include $1.3 million in one-time money for new monitors for the Utah Division of Air Quality and another $150,000 in ongoing money for monitors.
The caucus is also pushing for one-time money of $250,000 to continue ozone formation research in the Uinta Basin looking at leaks associated from tanks in the oil and gas industry.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he plans to work with his colleagues on bolstering the deployment of solar thermal panes to power household furnaces and water heaters. Widely adapted in Asia, Hutchings said, solar thermal panels used in this manner would be the equivalent of taking a car off the road for a year.