A clean air bill pushed by Gov. Gary Herbert as a key step to help reduce inversions along the Wasatch Front cleared a major hurdle Monday.
The Senate voted 27-0 to pass SB275, and sent it to the House.
Its sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said it will put more cleaner burning natural gas vehicles on the road. But critics including state Office of Consumer Services director Michele Beck have said the bill could force natural gas utility ratepayers, including the poor and those on fixed incomes, to subsidize the effort.
The bill would allow interlocal agreements for local governments to jointly borrow money to buy new natural gas vehicles or convert their current fleets and build more natural gas fueling stations and maintenance facilities.
The bill instructs the Public Service Commission to study how to create a revolving loan fund to finance such projects including allowing Questar to use earnings to start it.
"To prejudge this as a rate increase is premature," Adams told the Senate.
He said it also could save money for governments and taxpayers over time. He said converting a school bus to use natural gas costs $30,000, but cheaper fuel costs pay that off in about two years allowing government to pocket saving of $15,000 a year after that.
Adams also said the bill also would decrease dependence on foreign oil, and help promote more use of natural gas that is drilled in Utah. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who said he invests in some wells, added that natural gas "doesn't even require refineries," and "it is one of the cleanest burning fuels we have."
Herbert has pushed that bill as a step toward reducing air pollution amid several protests calling for more action to reduce air pollution after numerous nasty inversions this year.
Also on Monday, the House unanimously passed and sent to the Senate HB168 sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, which Herbert has endorsed.
That bill would require all state agencies, colleges, school districts, the Legislature and counties not meeting federal clean air standards to come up with plans on how their employees can help reduce pollution, and report back on how well their efforts are working.
Herbert said he has already instructed his Cabinet to take steps to ensure more efficient use of transportation, including more telecommuting.