Simple Bills Can Cause Not-so-simple Problems

While the rest of the country is rejoicing because the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania Groundhog did not see his shadow, northern and central Utahns remain under the shadow of another capricious creature: winter inversion. Though last week afforded a few days of beautiful sun and rising temperatures, a high pressure system and a buildup of noxious PM 2.5 has left many of us wishing we could breath through an air filter.

In what would be ironic in other states, one of the best vantage points for seeing the air we breath is the state capitol building, where legislators are in the second week of the yearly legislative session. Despite the increasing viscosity of our air, the state legislature remains largely silent on this issue.

Perhaps things would be different if there were only windows on the house floor.

Instead, the house heard a bill Monday that may instead harm the quality of our air. HB 23, described by its sponsor Rep. Steve Handy as “just a simple bill,” would give the Utah Department of Transportation power to limit the number of C Decals, or clean fuel vehicles, allowed in the I-15 express lane. There are currently 4600 owners of C Decals, but the bill would cap it at 6000. Handy says this is “simply a preemptive opportunity for the department of transportation.” It certainly isn’t a preemptive opportunity for dealing with our dirty air.

Currently, according to the UDOT website, vehicles with multiple occupants, motorcycles, and C-Decals have priority in the express lane. However, this bill, by giving UDOT authority to limit the number of available C-Decals, effectively de-prioritizes clean air vehicles. And the bill makes no mention of the thousands of individuals who pay to drive in the express lane–thus increasing pollutants–without meeting any of the requirements mentioned above.

There were some representatives who were willing to speak out against de-incentivizing the purchase of clean air vehicles. To her credit, Rep. Rhonda Menlove suggested use of the express lane should be prioritized so that carpoolers and clean-air cars would get preference over single-occupancy payers–essentially preserving current policy. Rep. Patrice Arent also drew attention to the problem of single-occupancy drivers and the burden they also presumably place on the express lane.

But there was no sustained mention of what this change means for deteriorating air quality in northern and central Utah.

Legislators will consider hundreds of meaningless bills over the next 45 days, and most of those will come from a majority party that every other time of year touts its small government credentials. Though Handy may claim that his bill is simple, the effects of his bill are not-so- simple. Indeed, the unintentional side effects of Handy’s bill will likely contribute to our deteriorating air quality for years to come.

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