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Utah air issues take back seat to virus fears and budget worries after failed tax reform

SHARE Utah air issues take back seat to virus fears and budget worries after failed tax reform

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, left and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, talk at the Capitol in Salt Lake City during the last night of the 2020 legislative session on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Coronavirus and doomed sales tax reform eviscerated much of the progress Utah lawmakers had hoped to make on battling the state’s air pollution problems, but there were some victories.

The state agreed to extend a tax credit to entities that switch out heavy-duty diesel burning vehicles for cleaner varieties that rely on natural gas, hydrogen or electric power.

If not for passage of HB59, by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, the tax credit would have lapsed this year. It now is in place for another 10 years, but at a decreasing amount each year to encourage earlier transformation to less polluting vehicles.

Lawmakers also agreed to invest $50,000 in a pilot voluntary program to inform homebuyers and sellers in the most polluted areas of the state about an individual residence’s home energy performance. Advocates had sought implementation of such a program for years, and while the funding for HB235 was much reduced from the original ask of $425,000, they still consider this a big win.

Under another measure passed this session, the Utah Department of Transportation will craft the outline of statewide electric vehicle charging network plan with an eye to identifying locations for electric vehicle chargers spaced no more than 50 miles apart.

HB259, by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, directs the agency to come up with a list of those locations to decrease range anxiety and thus incentivize motorists to invest in electric vehicles. Lawmakers set aside $2 million for the agency to concentrate on boosting that infrastructure in rural areas of the state and also removed the state requirement that electric vehicles receive emission inspections.

Another measure related to the electric vehicle charging network allows PacifiCorp to partner with the state on a $50 million planned buildout of additional infrastructure.

HB396, by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, brought praise from clean advocacy groups.

“Building out the charging infrastructure across the state will make it easier for more people to use electric vehicles and will help reduce the fossil-fuel emissions that harm Utah’s air quality and contribute to climate change,” said Aaron Kressig, Western Resource Advocates’ transportation electrification manager.

In the arena of water, Utah lawmakers also instituted the development of a new working group to develop best practices for providers on accounting for water loss.

Under HB40, by Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, the working group would come up with recommendations on how to best counter water loss from systems and deliver those findings to the Utah Water Task Force and the Legislative Water Development Commission.

Lawmakers, if even somewhat divided over the issue, reaffirmed Utah’s intent to develop its unused portion of the Colorado River, sending a message to other states that share the river’s resources.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources, after passage of HB328, will update a 2002 study on a possible diversion of Green River water below Flaming Gorge for delivery to growing Utah cities.

Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, explained to his colleagues that it is hard to make prudent decisions on projects using data that is 18 years old, but some groups fear it is just another way for Utah to prioritize a costly water project over boosting conservation projects.

The state Legislature also signed of its intent to preserve and protect wildlife migration corridors and boost motorist safety with its unanimous passage of HCR13 sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.