SALT LAKE CITY — A bill attempting to get the Utah Legislature to recognize a tepid accounting of human impacts on global climate — without any attached action or policy items — got the cold shoulder from a House committee on Tuesday, but the body did throw its support behind two bills aimed at mitigating some manmade emission sources.
Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee that his climate resolution, HCR1, really came down to a duo of important, but simple, concepts.
"To me, the most important parts of this resolution are the very first two sentences," Ward said. "The two overarching points are that there has been warming of our planet and this is caused in part by human-(created) emissions."
Ward attempted to back up these contentions, sharing data sets supporting assertions that included the planet is warming, Utah is warming, climate temperature is impacted by greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide levels are increasing in the atmosphere, and that there is significant scientific consensus on those basic facts.
Ward even walked the committee through some basic math equations to illustrate how human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are calculated and how closely those emission levels have been tracking over time with the rate CO2 levels have been increasing, globally.
Even though Ward's presentation of his resolution's intent — to simply recognize that climate change is a thing and that thing is caused, at least in part, by humans — was couched in a remedial science lesson, a number of committee members rebuked the ideas.
Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Trementon, said he questioned the impact of humans versus the natural global climate variations that have taken place over the course of history.
"If we’re using the last 150 years and we correlate that to the recent change in temperature, how do we explain that the Earth warmed enough to support crops …but 500 years ago it cooled enough to kill crops in northern Europe?" Sandall asked.
Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, said he's sceptical of a scientific consensus on the human contribution to climate change, noting that smaller groups of scientists supported contradictory findings. He also wondered aloud about what role the sun is playing in contributing to global warming.
"The sun is 1.3 million times larger than the Earth," Owens said. "Would that not be a dominate cause? I just can't go there, that man is the cause of all this."
Weber State University professor John Armstrong testified on behalf of himself in support of Ward's resolution, dismissing the arguments of naysayers on the committee.
"Despite the testimony you’ve heard, I can pretty much sum up that climate change is happening, it's caused by us and there are steps we can take to mitigate this," Armstrong said. "We must stop denying the science on climate change."
House Majority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, made a motion for the committee to vote in support of HCR1, but a substitute motion to hold the bill won support instead on a 9-3 vote.
In spite of the decision to put the climate change resolution on ice, the committee did support two other efforts aimed at reducing emissions from combustion engine sources.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek is hoping her HB101 can help reduce pollutants coming from diesel-powered vehicles in counties that are out of attainment for fine particulate pollution.
Under the provisions of Arent's bill, a three-year pilot program would bring diesel testing online in some counties that don't currently require it. She said there's ample evidence coming from current testing data that shows an expanded effort could make a difference.
"Light- and medium-duty diesel vehicles are two to six more times likely to fail emissions tests than gas vehicles," Arent said. "In 2017 in Weber County, there was an 18.8 percent failure rate for diesel tests, and of those, 38 percent were found to be caused by illegal tampering."
Arent said diesel-powered vehicles from the most recent five model years would be exempt under her proposal. The committee voted 12-0 to support HB101, sending the bill to the full House for consideration.
In part thanks to high-tech air quality testing equipment that travels aboard a few Wasatch Front TRAX light-rail vehicles, diesel-powered utility locomotives that help move cars around local freight rail yards were determined to be a surprisingly high source of pollutants.
Under a program proposed in HB211, the state would make $2 million in one-time funding available to help refurbish some of the so-called "freight switcher" vehicles, of which 60 are in use statewide, with the majority of those operating in two Salt Lake County yards.
Bill sponsor Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said the vehicles operate essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week and contribute more than 400 tons of nitrogen oxides, a precursor to Utah's fine particulate pollution, and 8 tons of direct particulate pollution. Rebuilding, or repowering, a freight switch vehicle to achieve current "Tier 4" standards reduces both nitrogen oxides and particulate outputs by nearly 90 percent.
University of Utah atmospheric scientist Dr. Daniel Mendoza explained that air monitoring sensors installed on Red Line TRAX trains helped identify pollution output from the Union Pacific's Roper Rail Yard in Salt Lake City. Mendoza said the level of pollutants is comparable to that coming from the I-15 spaghetti bowl interchange, which he described as the "most busy 2 miles of highway in Utah."
Handy said while EPA rules exempt railroads from meeting emission standards, his bill would help incentivize upgrading the switchers to cleaner-burning powerplants.
The state funding, which would source from funds distributed from the Volkswagen diesel scandal settlement, are intended to be utilized in conjunction with other funds and a contribution from the rail operating companies that participate.
Handy noted that Union Pacific officials had already indicated interest in participating. The committee approved HB211 on a vote of 10-1, and the bill now moves to the House for that body's consideration.