<strong>SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -</strong> The greater Salt Lake region has been choking under back to back episodes of severe pollution this winter, and lawmakers are introducing legislation to tackle the problem.
Democrats in the state Legislature previewed a package of bills Monday that focuses on expanding access to public transit and requires businesses and public agencies to find ways to reduce pollution, among other proposals.
The legislation is still being crafted and the text of the proposals has not yet been made public, but lawmakers, all Salt Lake City-area Democrats, held a news conference Monday to introduce the ideas.
Republican lawmakers say they’re planning their own air quality bills this session and are open to proposals that come before them from the minority party.
Last week, state air quality regulators adopted more regulations to tackle the bad air, including emissions controls on hamburger grills and aerosol products, and protesters fed up with the smog delivered a petition with thousands of signatures to the governor asking for action.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has issued red air quality alerts for northern Utah 22 days this year, and the public has been very vocal on the issue, Rep. Patrice Arent said at the Monday news conference.
Arent said the bills her party is offering will help reduce pollution, but the problem will still have to be tackled on many sides.
One of Arent’s proposals would require all state agencies to come up with a plan to reduce polluting activities, such as offering increased telecommuting, flexible work hours or purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles.
Rep. Joel Briscoe said lawmakers know most of the pollution comes from cars, and that’s why they’re pursuing ideas they hope will encourage people to change their behavior and take public transit.
Briscoe is working on legislation that sets aside money for the state to offer free public transit passes to any Utah resident in January or July _ two months when the state’s air quality is particularly bad.
Another mass transit proposal from Rep. Marie Poulson would provide tax credits for individuals purchasing certain public transit passes.
Other proposals from the Democrats include a bill from Rep. Lynn Hemingway that requires industry to use the best available technology to reduce emissions, and another bill from Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck that would make it easier for Utah’s Air Quality Board to adopt rules stricter than the Environmental Protection Agency.
Right now, the board cannot adopt tougher policies without some kind of study or overwhelming public demand for higher restrictions, Chavez-Houck said.
Lawmakers didn’t have estimates yet on the potential cost of their bills.
Arent said Democrats feel that Republicans, who control the Legislature by a large margin, agree that it’s a problem and are open to legislation on the issue, especially as people have made it clear they’re fed up with the smog.
“I’m hearing a lot about this from people. The people get it, and everybody’s going to have to participate in the solution,” she said.
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said she wasn’t familiar with the proposals from Democratic lawmakers, but her fellow Republicans are working on legislation of their own, including a proposal to extend tax credits for alternative fuel vehicles. She said, on the whole, air quality has improved over the past 20 years, but there are still many days when the state is struggling.
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