Guest opinion: Which legislators voted for clean air?
Most Utahns love the natural beauty here and want to conserve it along with the quality of our lifestyle, air and water. We tend to vote for conservatives if they are in favor of conservation of the environment.
So what did Utah County legislators do for conservation this year?
Our senators were stellar: Five of our seven Utah County senators –Bramble, Hinkins, Kennedy, McCay and McKell — voted consistently in favor of bills that conserved environmental quality.
And four of our 16 Utah County representatives — Burton, Judkins, McKell and Roberts — were similarly supportive of conservation. Remember that when they ask for your vote or a donation next year.
Unfortunately, the majority of their Utah County colleagues in the House had other priorities. Remember that, too.
Three important bills
One of the most important issues was Sen. Curt Bramble’s successful Senate Bill 146 to make permanent a 2018-2020 pilot program requiring diesel emissions testing in Utah County and other Wasatch Front counties.
SB 146 makes sense, because 1,467 diesel vehicles in Utah County failed emissions tests in 2019, and the emission controls in over half of those vehicles were tampered or defeated. Utah Department of Environmental Quality estimated that the failed vehicles released 1,217 tons of pollution more than what compliant vehicles would have emitted.
As a specific example, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment bought a truck with defeated emission controls at Diesel Brothers and discovered it was 36 times dirtier than a compliant vehicle. A judge fined Diesel Brothers $848,000, plus about $1 million for court costs.
All seven Utah County senators supported SB 146, as did representatives Abbott, Burton, Christofferson, Judkins, McKell, Roberts, Robertson, and Thurston. Surprisingly, six other Utah County representatives actually voted against it.
With asthma being the main cause of school absences and air quality a top concern of voters, legislators’ votes against local diesel testing are hard to understand.
Another interesting and successful bill was House Bill 91 supporting “tax credits for alternative-fuel heavy-duty vehicles” to reduce pollution. All of our senators supported this bill, as did representatives Abbott, Burton, Christofferson, Judkins, Maloy, McKell, Roberts and Welton. Unfortunately, five of our representatives voted against this bill as well.
A notoriously controversial bill was Rep. Kay Christofferson’s HB 209, which dramatically raised registration fees for electric, plug-in and hybrid vehicles. His laudable intent was to ensure that owners of such vehicles help pay for the roads they drive on. They buy little gasoline and thus avoid paying gas tax to support roads.
Half of our sixteen Utah County representatives voted for HB 209, but it was defeated in the House and never got to the Senate. Clean air advocates vigorously opposed the bill because these electric, plug-in and hybrid vehicles emit little or no pollution, and the consensus was that we should find better ways to pay for roads. One sensible option is the “road usage charge,” where drivers pay for miles driven. Some of us already do that.
Rep. Christofferson voted for both SB 146 and HB 91, so he cannot be labeled as opposed to conservation.
Rep. John Hawkins could not vote on any of the above bills because he was sick and nearly died from COVID-19 during the 2021 session. We’re glad he recovered, and he no doubt will be a strong supporter of clean air legislation.
Freedom for the wolves means death for the lambs
But why do some Utah County legislators vote against conservation measures?
My colleague Val Peterson is a UVU vice-president who represents HD 59. He explains his votes against environmental bills like HB 91 this way: If they involve tax credits, that reduces revenue for UVU and other educational purposes, so he usually votes against them.
That is understandable, but tax revenue for education should be balanced by concern for the health of UVU students and the rest of us, all of whom have to breathe Utah air 24/7.
Another reason to oppose some conservation regulation is pressure from libertarian organizations, which carefully report votes. We all cherish our freedom.
But it must be balanced with responsibility. Freedom to fiddle with diesel pollution controls means more asthma attacks for family members suffering from it and other lung diseases. And pollution shortens everyone’s life.
As philosopher Isaiah Berlin put it succinctly, “Freedom for the wolves means death for the lambs.”
It is amazingly easy to see how your legislators voted. If you don’t know who they are, click on Utah.gov and then “government.”
If you want to know how your legislators voted on a particular bill, Google up “Utah Bills 2021,” and once you bring up a bill, click on “status” in its menu to see how legislators voted.