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  • Writer's pictureTom Moyer

Legislative recap

This legislative session was a mixed bag, with progress on climate change and the Great Salt Lake, along with disappointments on energy policy and clean air. You can see the final status of all the bills we followed on our legislative tracker.


O2 Utah, focusing on clean air legislation, had the most stinging take. "There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. The 2024 legislative session was a major disappointment on air quality and climate bills." You can read their whole statement here.


Grow the Flow held a legislative recap webinar last week on Great Salt Lake bills with Representatives Ray Ward and Gay Lynn Bennion, Katie Newburn from Friends of Great Salt Lake, and Ben Abbott and Jake Dreyfous from Grow the Flow. You can watch the recording here.


Heal Utah is holding a Pints and Policy legislative recap at Fisher brewing on March 12th at 6pm. And Utah Clean Energy is hosting a Lunch and Learn legislative recap webinar at noon on March 13th.


Big Picture


We watched bills on four main legislative topics - climate, clean energy, Great Salt Lake, and coal. There were a couple of good climate bills that flew under the radar. They all acknowledge the desirability of reducing greenhouse gas emissions - something we would have considered a major victory a few years ago. There were many good energy and air pollution bills proposed, some of which passed through committee or through one of the two houses, but were then held up and got no further. The Great Salt Lake bills mostly went through with little opposition. Most of them focused on shepherding conserved water to the lake, which is an important area that needed attention. Energy policy (and coal) was the worst of the areas with multiple bills passing to prolong the life of Utah's coal plants or to improve their economics by shifting costs to ratepayers.


Climate change


Rep. Clancy's HR005 urges the US Congress to support trade policies that hold high polluting countries like China and Russia accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions, and reward American businesses and workers for their superior environmental performance. It passed the House unanimously. This is direct support for the PROVE-IT Act that we support, and we've already communicated that support to our Congressional offices.


Rep Thurston's HCR007 passed both houses unanimously. It urges Congress to repeal the Jones Act, a century-old piece of protectionist legislation that requires all goods transported from one point in the US to another to use US-built ships. This law is a major impediment to the offshore wind industry right now. There doesn't seem to be enough support in Congress to repeal it, but Senator Lee has introduced a bill to do it, and this gives us an opportunity to be on the same side on a climate issue.


Rep Chew's HB452 - Carbon Capture Amendments sets up a mechanism for inspection and long-term monitoring of carbon dioxide injection wells. There will be carbon capture projects in Utah, and it's important that it be done responsibly.


Clean air and clean energy


Rep. Clancy's HB279 was probably the most important of these. It would have set a target of a 50% reduction in criteria pollutants by 2033 from a 2017 baseline in applicable areas (along the Wasatch Front), and required state agencies to develop implementation plans. It was killed immediately and never made it out of the Rules Committee.


Senator Harper's SB189 - Net Metering Energy Amendments would have increased the credit rate for exported rooftop solar power. It passed through one committee but was then killed by Senate leadership and not given a vote on the floor.


Senator Ipson's SB170 - Clean Truck Incentive program would have incentivized zero-emissions medium and heavy duty vehicles, which are a major source of both greenhouse emissions and criteria pollutants. It never made it past the Senate Rules Committee.


You can see more good bills in this category in the legislative tracker. These will be good topics to try to build support for over the next year, and see if they can get another shot in next year's legislative session.


Great Salt Lake


Senator Sandall's SB018 and SB077, and Rep Albrecht's HB061 all aim to better track conserved water, to make sure it gets to the Great Salt Lake rather than just being taken by the next user downstream.


Rep Snyder's HB453 changes regulations on water usage for mineral extraction companies. Under previous water law, they were using water from the lake that was defined as having no "beneficial use." They are now required to implement water conservation measures and make cuts during dry years, just as others must do.


Rep. Owens's HB011 - Water Efficient Landscaping Requirements was initially written to ban lawn or turf on government properties. After meeting resistance, it was amended to only ban above-ground spray irrigation, and is still a major step in the right direction. The amount of water used at government buildings is not large in the overall system, but it's an important symbol that all water users hold themselves to high standards and help solve the problem.


Coal


The coal bills were a major disappointment. The legislature passed a handful of bills aimed at prolonging the life of Utah's coal plants. E&E News had a good article after the session about efforts in multiple states along these lines. Utah's coal plants are old, and legislators are worried about upcoming retirements and having the state be unable to build replacement generation in time. Unfortunately some of these bills will have the effect of delaying construction of new generation, shifting costs onto taxpayers and prolonging uneconomic power generation.


The Intermountain Power Plant is scheduled to be retired in 2025 and replaced by a plant capable of running on a mix of natural gas and hydrogen. Senator Owens's SB161 gives the state the option to buy the power plant rather than have it demolished. The state does not have to exercise that option, but if they do, they will be buying a power plant with significant EPA liabilities and no transmission lines.


The worst of these bills was Senator Sandall's SB224 - Energy Independence Amendments. It reverses the traditional burden of proof for utilities to justify their costs to the Public Service Commission. Costs for coal plants only are now assumed to be reasonable, unless shown otherwise by the public. It's permission to pass along all the increased costs to ratepayers. Utah Clean Energy and Western Resource Advocates put out a great statement against the bill here. And it's worth watching the testimony against the bill during committee from Logan Michell and from Michelle Beck of the Office of Consumer Services. Rep. Ward also spoke well against the bill on the House floor (2:17:40 mark).

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