Our January Partner Meeting hosted a highly anticipated preview of the upcoming 2023 Legislative Session. We had a lineup of presentations from different sectors, including Bryce Bird from the Division of Air Quality, Ashley Miller from Breathe Utah, Utah State Representative Joel Briscoe, Josh Craft from Utah Clean Energy, and Miranda Jones-Cox from the Wasatch Front Regional Council. Here are some of the highlights.
Bryce Bird, Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ)
Bryce commenced the session by providing insights into Utah’s ongoing air quality challenges. He highlighted the increase in the number of good air quality days in 2022 compared to the average, but also noted a rise in pollutants during certain months. Bryce emphasized that ozone levels, in particular, posed a significant challenge, and the state was focused on addressing this issue. He highlighted that mobile sources, including both passenger and commercial cars and trucks, are still the largest statewide contributor. While the use of lower-emitting Tier 3 gasoline was mentioned as a positive step forward, Bryce recognized that Utah is a major site of national and international transportation due to manufacturer locations, which drives up emissions and should be addressed with the rapid growth of the state. Utah’s population growth was also attributed to an increase in solvents and the use of 2-stroke lawn equipment (i.e. lawnmowers, leaf blowers), which are significant sources of VOC emissions.
Bryce also discussed DAQ’s ongoing developments in creating state implementation plans (SIPs) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address the state’s nonattainment areas for ozone. These areas have already been moved up from marginal to moderate status, and, given current data, they will likely be reclassified as serious by 2025. Bryce closed his presentation with a call for action in the coming years. Regarding the Legislative Session, DAQ has asked Appropriations for an increase in staffing to operate new air quality monitors that have been set up to better measure and address ozone.
Ashley Miller, Executive Director of Breathe Utah
Ashley shared Breathe Utah’s initiatives to advocate for clean air, including educational programs for students and policy advocacy. She also introduced Breathe Utah’s legislative tracker, which provides a comprehensive summary of air quality-related bills, appropriations requests, votes for each bill, and relevant links. Visit Breath Utah’s dedicated Legislation webpage to explore this tracker and other helpful resources such as links to help identify your local Legislator and register to vote. To close, Ashley encouraged participation in the legislative process and highlighted several of the numbered and public bills related to air quality:
- Senate Bill 28, which addresses radon gas testing and mitigation
- SCR2- Concurrent Resolution Regarding the Environmental Impact of Vehicle Idling, which encourages Utah residents and businesses to reduce idling
- Governer’s Budget Recommendations for $27.1 Million to go toward Air Quality
- $160,000 to study air quality impacts of wind-blown dust from the Great Salt Lake
- $25 Million for a one-year, statewide zero-fare public transit pilot with $500,000 allocated for a zero-fare transit study to analyze the impacts of the pilot
- $827,000 to monitor ozone conditions
Representative Joel Briscoe, District 24 Representative for The State of Utah
Representative Briscoe expressed support for zero-fare public transit. He discussed how lowering barriers to transit usage could encourage greater adoption and help with long-term planning for transportation needs. He also mentioned planning for a Utah Clean Energy Fund in collaboration with over 20 similar funds that exist nationwide. Representative Briscoe closed by emphasizing that there is $27 Billion of funding available through the Inflation Reduction Act to foster clean energy adoption, reduce emissions and improve Utah’s ozone levels.
Josh Craft, Government and Corporate Relations Manager at Utah Clean Energy
Josh shared Utah Clean Energy’s renewed focus on climate leadership, informed and data-driven policy and electrified transportation. In a continuation of Representative Briscoe’s discussion of clean energy funds or “green banks,” Josh specified their usefulness over traditional banks to facilitate financing for green energy projects and energy-efficient equipment. These banks are equipped with specific knowledge about costs for the clean energy sector and could frontload finances needed to catalyze important projects. Josh also highlighted Utah Clean Energy’s focus on legislation that updates building energy code standards. With the current challenges in the housing market, Josh emphasized that it is important to save costs while also ensuring proper construction codes.
Miranda Jones Cox, Government Affairs Manager for Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC)
Miranda introduced WFRC, which is a metropolitan planning organization that covers Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Box Elder, Cache, Morgan, and Weber counties. WFRC is focused on transportation-related matters and their impact on air quality, such as Wasatch Choice 2050. This locally-driven initiative brings together residents, community leaders, businesses and other partners to identify transportation solutions with regional significance that also reduce emissions. She highlighted WFRC’s work to implement House Bill 462, which requires planning and building around transit stations. By placing housing, employment, and educational opportunities closer together, individuals do not need to travel as far. Miranda also discussed proposed transportation investments in the Governor’s proposed budget, including:
- An active transportation investment fund to develop a statewide, comprehensive trails network for walking and biking;
- Improvements to transit infrastructure, like double tracking the FrontRunner for increased service frequency and better service to the Point of the Mountain development;
- Further funding for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI) to implement an electric vehicle infrastructure network across the state of Utah.
Miranda also mentioned the zero-fare public transit pilot, stating that WFRC is collaborating on a study that shows a 24-36% increase in ridership if zero fares are in place.
To close the meeting, we invited other UCAIR partners from different organizations to discuss their ongoing projects and initiatives:
O2 Utah: Energy Efficiency Amendments are being put forward to reduce our emissions through building code standards, transportation, and other incentive programs. O2 Utah is also looking into federal funding opportunities for these items as well.
HEAL Utah: HEAL Utah is working toward the adoption of the 2021 retrofit building codes and lobbying for the Great Salt Lake to expand the PM10 sensor network and learn more about the dust. Meetings are also being held with people from the Uintah Basin regarding methane emissions to try and help the industry save money and reduce emissions in that area.
The meeting concluded with a sense of optimism, as stakeholders and attendees recognized the need for collective action to tackle environmental challenges. The Utah Legislature’s ongoing discussions and the participation of organizations dedicated to clean air offer hope for a healthier and happier future for Utahns.