Utah lawmakers took a significant step to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions when they recently passed HB396. With final approval from Gov. Gary Herbert, this legislation will allow Rocky Mountain Power to invest up to $50 million for ramping up installment of electric vehicle, or EV, infrastructure throughout the state. The move will no doubt improve air quality and help the state meet its “Utah Roadmap” to reduce carbon emissions. 

The transportation sector has become the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in America, and in Utah specifically, cars and trucks account for 48% of particulate matter, or PM 2.5, the chief component of air pollution in the state. To combat this significant risk to the climate and health of Utah residents, the state needs continued investment in EVs to decrease the overall carbon and air pollution footprint of trucks, buses and cars.

Salt Lake City is eighth on a list of U.S. cities. Not for its wonderful sites, not for its sports teams, not for its rich history. No, Salt Lake City is eighth on a list of American cities for the worst 24-hour particle air pollution — the kind that creates smog. Driven in part by bowl-like topography and air patterns, the air pollution is made vastly worse by emissions from vehicles. Utahns know this, called for a solution, and the state’s policymakers took steps to solve the problem. The U.S. can learn from Utah’s example. 

The pros and cons of electric vehicles

Many states have also worked to expand EV infrastructure and incentives, with California, New York and New Jersey investing a combined $1.3 billion in EV charging stations. Utah and several of its neighbors, including Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Montana, updated a pre-existing memorandum of understanding in December 2019 to recommit to developing EV charging infrastructure along major transportation corridors in the region.  

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Congress has also considered several boosts to investments in EV infrastructure and research funding. In 2019 both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved measures that would have provided billions of dollars in funding for EV charging infrastructure through direct investment or state and local grants. More recently, the Senate considered the American Energy Innovation Act, which along with many other measures aimed at combatting climate change, would have provided funding for research into EV innovation. Despite these attempts, Congress has not yet been able to come together and set the national agenda on EVs. 

While states like Utah are leading the way and doing their part, ultimately to make the gains the United Nations reports countries need to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, the federal government must take action to encourage more widespread adoption of the technology. Utah’s bipartisan legislative response should serve as inspiration for the other states and Congress who haven’t taken action yet to expand use of emissions-saving EVs. 

Utahns took action to put themselves on a more positive list of innovators and climate change problem solvers; a list they can, and should, be proud of. Will other states and Congress do the same?

Zolaikha Strong is the director of energy policy and markets at the Copper Development Association.

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