The 2023 Utah Legislative Session finished last week. You can see everything we worked on in the 2023 legislative tracker, but here are some of the highlights.
Thank-yous are always in order whenever your legislator does anything good, and continued respectful communication can help move them if they haven't yet. If you are a constituent of Reps Birkeland, Dailey-Provost, J. Moss, or Stoddard - or Senators Anderegg, Harper or Cullimore, it would be great to send them a note thanking them for their efforts on clean air and climate. You can look up your district and contact information for your legislators here.
HB220 - Emissions Reduction Amendments
This was the big win on air quality this year, and congratulations are due to Rep Stoddard, Senator Cullimore, and the team at O2 Utah who made this their top priority. The bill targeted chlorine and bromine emissions. A recent study found that emissions of those chemicals from US Magnesium are responsible for 10-25% of the PM2.5 along the Wasatch Front.
The bill went through quite a tug-of-war during the session, being amended in the House to make it just a study and then amended again in the Senate to put some teeth back in it, going to a conference committee, and finally passing unanimously in a final version close to the Senate's.
The DAQ must:
Identify and quantify all industrial sources of halogens (including chlorine and bromine).
Make a recommendation to the legislature on an emissions limit by the end of 2024.
Enforce that limit no later than 2026.
SB125 - Transportation Infrastructure Amendments
This bill passed unanimously. It designates the ASPIRE Center at Utah State University as the lead research center for strategic planning for electrification of transportation infrastructure. It creates a steering committee to help develop an action plan for the electrification of transportation infrastructure within Utah, and it provides $2.1 million for the operations of the research center and the committee.
This session featured a lot of culture-war talk about fossil fuels and some anti-renewable and anti-ESG legislation. But this bill was a concrete step in the right direction on vehicle electrification.
The legislature funded an Executive Branch position called the Center for Rural Development Outreach Manager at $130,000 a year. This is something we helped push for. We want to help rural communities diversify and grow their economies as they transition away from relying primarily on fossil fuel extraction, and having a dedicated office will help get them access to available federal resources.
For the Great Salt Lake, the legislature funded
$200 million for agricultural water optimization, providing matching grants for irrigation efficiency projects
$18 million more for the Secondary Water Meters program created in 2022
$10 million (one-time) and $2.5 million (ongoing) for the new Office of the Great Salt Lake Commissioner to address the dropping lake level - hopefully by leasing or buying water from rights-holders. (HB491)
$5 million for Water Efficient Landscaping Incentives (SB118)
$2 million (one-time) and $1 million (ongoing) for the Utah Water Ways education campaign on water conservation and optimal water use. (HB307)
$500,000 (one-time) and $390,000 (ongoing) for a study to coordinate water planning among state and local entities. (SB76)
$200,000 for a Water Infrastructure Study to review the use of property tax revenue for funding water infrastructure, treatment, and delivery. (Hiding the true cost of water in property taxes drives up water usage.) (SB34)
We hoped to see more funds dedicated to leasing or buying water rights for the lake, and that will be an ongoing need in future years. But overall this is a pretty good list. You can see a more comprehensive summary of water legislation and funding at the Utah Senate page.
Bills weakened or defeated
HJR25 - Joint Resolution Highlighting the Hazards of Net-Zero Energy
This resolution would have sent a signal that developing our renewable energy resources would harm our economy and our energy security. I testified against it in committee. It passed the committee and the House, but was never taken up in the Senate. Thank-you to all the legislators who voted against this one.
HB425 - Energy Security Amendments
This was about the state taking legal action to keep coal plants open, and it became a debate over the future of the Intermountain Power Plant which is scheduled to convert from coal to a mix of gas and hydrogen. One version of this bill would have given the legislature the power to block the transition. That version was dropped and replaced with a study on giving the state the option to purchase the plant before it closes.
HB407 - Incentives Amendments
This bill would have repealed the state's production tax credit for renewable energy. It passed the House, but was defeated in a Senate committee. Thank-you to Senators Bramble, Harper, and McCay for voting against it.
HB301 - Transportation Tax Revisions
The legislature passed this bill, which adds a new 12.5% tax on fees paid at public EV charging stations. It also raises registration fees for all cars, and cuts the gas tax by 2 cents per gallon. This is going the wrong direction on incentivizing clean vehicles, and it's even the wrong direction for raising revenue from out-of-state drivers, which was one of its stated purposes. Home charging and free charging stations are exempt from the new tax, so EV drivers who are homeowners will see little effect. Those who have to rely on public charging will be the most affected. They already pay a higher registration fee to cover road usage, and now they'll get hit with another fee.
SB97 - Public Contract Requirements
This was one of a number of anti-ESG (and anti free market) bills. It bars state contracts with companies who engage in "subjective boycotts" on any of a long list of topics that the state disapproves of. These boycott-the-boycotters bills are being proposed and sometimes passed in states around the country. It will probably have little effect other than to hurt the state's image with the Olympics and with clean energy companies who might want to do business here.
Climate Innovation in a Red State with Governor Cox
If you missed this event earlier it's worth giving it a listen. This is a clear sign of political progress on climate change. You can watch it here.