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Several clean-air bills advanced in the Utah Legislature on Tuesday, with the House voting to give the Division of Air Quality authority to enact stricter air-quality regulations. But a committee balked at letting the department crack down on wood-burning scofflaws.
The House approved HB121, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, which removes language from state law that prevents the Division of Air Quality from going beyond federal rules imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency if the rules are needed to protect public health and welfare.
"Utah's unique topography and weather conditions create circumstances that are best addressed with a Utah solution," Edwards said. "This is yet another example of how states are most effective and can do things better than the federal one-size-fits-all solutions."
An attempt by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, to make it harder for the state Division of Air Quality to implement its own regulations than Edwards proposed failed. The House passed the bill 54-18, sending it to the Senate.
Earlier, a House committee approved a program aimed at phasing out wood-burning stoves used in the winter months to heat homes in areas where air quality is not meeting federal regulations.
The program, proposed by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, would provide $1.5 million to subsidize the transition from wood-burning stoves to natural gas furnaces for the 200-plus homes in non-attainment areas where wood burning is the only source of heat.
Burning wood in a stove for one hour emits as much fine-particulate pollution as driving a car from Salt Lake City to St. George and back again, Arent said, citing research by the University of Utah.
"This is one of the highest bang-for-our-buck activities," said Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, a supporter of the bill.
The bill originally would have also provided funds to hire part-time, seasonal investigators to follow up on reports by neighbors or others that homes are burning wood on no-burn days.
But legislators fearful of the heavy hand of government stripped that out.
Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said it was too much for the state to "get into an area where we're sending Gestapo out … to watch people's chimneys to see smoke goes up and to ticket when it's a widow who has no resources."
Currently, a homeowner burning wood on a no-burn day can be fined $25 on a first offense, $150 on a second offense and $299 on subsequent violations. But Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said resources for enforcing no-burn days are limited.
Last year, the state issued just 16 citations for the year.
The Senate Revenue and Taxation also unanimously recommended passage of HB74 that would extend a $2,500 state tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle, bringing the incentive in line with the one in place for natural-gas cars. The measure has already passed the House and moves to the Senate for a vote.