Clean air advocates released their grades for Utah lawmakers Tuesday. Compared to past legislative sessions, lawmakers showed improvement, but advocates say there is still a lot of work to be done.
After a legislative session that included more than 20 proposed air quality bills, the president of Clean Air Now Carl Ingwell says that for the first time ever, a small step was taken in the right direction. But he says there is an enormous gap between what the public thinks needs to be done and what the legislature was willing to do. The coalition of clean air groups gave the Governor a B, the House an overall B minus, and the Senate a D.
“The governor truly threw his weight behind some worthy proposals, while the legislature passed a few minor yet admittedly helpful bills. The legislature allowed more money to the Division of Air Quality, increased tax credits for electric vehicles and hybrids, but the game-changer bills were either never proposed or did not pass,” Ingwell says.
There were no bills proposed that would substantially restrict or bar expansion of industry pollution. A bill that would have allowed a voter approved local transit tax failed in the Senate, as did the governor’s proposal to replace dirty school buses. Ingwell along with Ingrid Griffee of Utah Moms for Clean Air worked as full time lobbyists for clean air this session. But Griffee says she was outnumbered by industry lobbyists, who she says appear to have more access and influence than citizens.
“It’s extremely difficult for the average citizen to come and do that kind of work,” Griffee says. “And then you have teams of industrial lobbyists – and that’s their full time job to just be keeping an eye on those bills and making sure that they’re here to represent industry. So it was surprising to me how unequal the political arena really is.”
Griffee says this session is only the beginning of a process.
“What happens in this building is supposed to represent the citizens. In the end, we can only believe that our system will work out and that the will of the people will prevail,” Griffee says.
Advocates are encouraging citizens to contact lawmakers all year long, not just during the session. They hope to push legislation earlier in the process this time. And they say they plan to call attention to state representatives’ individual air quality grades in the coming election.