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In a battle Tuesday over whether to spend money on cleaner air or education, schools won. That means some current tax credits could soon end for vehicles that use cleaner-burning fuels, such as compressed natural gas, propane or electricity.

HB96 to extend those credits for another five years was killed, for now, on a 7-8 vote in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Fiscal analysts figured the bill would cost an extra $2.3 million by 2015 — all coming out of education funds financed by income taxes. That's because the bill would not just simply extend current credits, but also expand them a bit. Credits are due to expire on Dec. 31 unless they are extended.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said conversion kits to natural gas would no longer need to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards to qualify for tax breaks under his bill. It would instead use Canadian Standards Association criteria — which Draxler said meet "the same emissions and safety standards," but are less expensive. So he said more people could convert.

Ty Robinson, who converts vehicles to cleaner fuels, said converting his truck to natural gas cost $10,000 using CSA standards, and would have cost $18,000 to meet EPA standards. He said the conversion allows him to get 23 miles per gallon equivalent instead of 12 mpg on gasoline, and said its emissions are currently cleaner than the ambient air with the inversion.

He said state tax credits of up to $2,500 help make conversions more affordable. "I think this bill is the most important thing we can do for air quality," Robinson said.

Draxler agreed.

"This is a way to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to cleaning air pollution," said the lawmaker.

But several of his colleagues criticized cutting into education funds to pay for the program.

"I think it's a great idea, but I'd like to see the funding come from another source," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.

Other lawmakers also questioned whether incentives from tax credits are still needed because the cost of hybrids and clean-fuel vehicles are coming down.

Draxler said he will rework his bill — including possibly pushing it as a straight extension of current tax cuts instead of an expansion — to try to pass it this year before the credits expire.

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