State gov’t takes first step toward clean air

N–Leg-Update Colby Patterson
Utah legislators discuss active bills for this year’s session. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Utah legislators discuss active bills for this year’s session. Photo by Brent Uberty.

State vehicles may get a lot fancier over the next four years.

On Friday, the state Senate passed S.B. 99, one of many bills in this legislative session that aims to improve Utah air quality. The bill would require 50 percent of all new state purchases of cars intended to carry passengers to use alternative fuels or conform to high efficiency standards by Aug. 30, 2018, when 2019 models of cars will be released.

The bill has been passed on to the House Rules Committee after passing 27-1 through the Senate.

State Sen. Scott Jenkins (R-Plain City) is sponsoring the bill. He said the state government needs to set an environmentally responsible example.

“If we can’t be good stewards of the air, who can?” he asked the Senate Operations and Political Subdivision Standing Committee when he introduced the revised version of the bill Tuesday, Feb. 4.

The original version of the bill required that all of the new cars purchased run on natural gas. Some opposed the natural gas requirement and said it is not the most environmentally friendly option when it comes to vehicles.

“I have some … mixed feelings about this bill,” said Carl Ingwell, founder of Clean Air Now. “We’d be far more supportive of electric vehicles.”

Natural gas production, he said, is one of many causes of ozone depletion. Requiring cars to run on natural gas might produce fewer emissions in car travel, but the production would continue to damage the air. Others were more supportive.

“I was so happy when I saw this bill from Sen. Jenkins,” said State Sen. Luz Robles (D-Salt Lake). “This was my ‘Happy Birthday’ gift.”

Jenkins said achieving the goal by 2018 will be realistic because high efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles are becoming more common in the marketplace with regulations on manufacturers. Richard Amon, deputy director for the department of administrative services, agreed.

“It’s not very far off,” Amon said.

The bill does not require that 50 percent of all state vehicles conform to these new standards — only 50 percent of replacement and new cars purchased in the next four years have to measure up.

Amon said his department is still trying to assess how many of its recent purchases currently meet the requirement, but predicted that 30 to 35 percent of the state’s vehicles already meet the new efficiency standards.

Gov. Gary Herbert said at the start of the session that air quality was one of his top priorities. S.B. 99 is just one of many bills addressing the issue this legislative session, though Jenkins said he drafted the bill long before others came into being.

“Everybody’s worried about air quality standards and how we can make them better, so this is my goal, to try to be a good example to our state and our citizens,” Jenkins said.

Electric cars, hybrids and vehicles running on alternative fuels are all supported by the bill.

a.drysdale@chronicle.utah.edu