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Year of the Scorpion
by Mark Clemens
The Utah Legislature not only blew off steam with a parade of costly anti-environmental message bills and resolutions, but it also did genuine damage to Utahns’ outdoor resources, health and safety during the 2010 General Session. From the bill providing tax cuts for polluting and destructive oil shale, tar sands and pet coke, to a bill locking Utahns out of access to floating and fishing rivers and streams, to the wolf death penalty bill, 2010 was the year of the scorpion with a real sting in its tail.
“We continue to have grave concerns about public lands management in Utah, and we see nothing coming out of the 2010 session that leads us to believe legislators recognize the urgent need to address critical issues such as forest and habitat preservation, and the overall effects of climate change. What we do see is a continued emphasis on message bills that only serve to waste precious tax dollars. We believe the vast majority of Utahns value public lands and the preservation of healthy habitat, watershed and recreation, rather than our legislature’s preference for privatization and development,” said Dan Mayhew, chair of the Utah Chapter’s Conservation Committee.
Some progress continued on bills improving energy efficiency such as HB 70 sponsored by Rep Jack Draxler (R-North Logan) promoting conversions of conventional gasoline- powered cars to natural gas, and HB 318, sponsored by Rep Roger Barrus (R-Centerville) that expands access to an energy-efficiency revolving loan fund, as well as SB 104, sponsored by Sen Stephen Urquhart (R-St George), that classifies the energy from compressed air storage as a renewable source. In this session, the legislature built on last session’s HB 120 establishing a Snake Valley Aquifer Research Team and Advisory Council, by providing a small but continuing source of funding for air and water monitoring in Sen Dennis Stowell’s First Substitute SB 24. These tweaks and incremental improvements are appreciated, but they didn’t do much to alter the overall direction of the session.
Governor Gary Herbert then took a session the overall tenor of which was poor and made it horrible by vetoing one of the few bills that would have significantly pushed energy efficiency. SB 47, sponsored by Sen Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal), would have made Rocky Mountain Power’s CoolKeeper program opt out rather than opt in. Utilities like Rocky Mountain Power have to run peaking power plants that burn natural gas in order to meet demand on a handful of summer afternoons when demand briefly skyrockets. These peakers are wasteful and polluting because the natural gas has to be burning at times when the plants don’t even produce electricity.
Rocky Mountain Power self-reports a 97% satisfaction level among the 90,000 customers who have opted for CoolKeeper. Herbert’s veto was either a cheap political gesture or an expression of a poorly-informed operator. Either explanation is troubling.
Other bills that held great potential for environmental improvement such as Rep Jack Draxler’s Second Substitute HB 102 that would have provided a continuing stream of revenue for counties to preserve agricultural lands in continuing farm production, and Sen Wayne Niederhauser’s (R-Sandy) SB 194 that would have allowed counties to issue bonds for residential energy efficiency investment, stalled in committee.
Members of the Utah House of Representatives were graded on their votes on eight bills. Four representatives received 100% scores. They are Rep Rebecca Chavez-Houck ( D-Salt Lake City), Rep Christine Johnson ( D-Salt Lake City), Rep Brian King ( D-Salt Lake City) and Rep Marie Poulson (D-Cottonwood). At the other end of the spectrum, seven representatives scored under 15%. For the second year in a row, a representative scored a zero %; this year’s winner of that dubious distinction is Rep Ben Ferry (R-Corinne).
Senators were also graded on their votes on eight bills. Freshman Senator Ben McAdams ( D-Salt Lake City) scored 100%. Six senators received a C, with scores between 71 and 75%. Senator David Hinkins (R-Orangeville) brought up the rear with a score of 13%.
The public can check out the scorecards on line at http://utah.sierraclub.org/legislative.asp. Bills are chosen across a range of topics such as public lands, air quality, energy, zoning, wetlands and public health. Bills are also chosen to include both those with broad support as well as some that have not yet gained consensus.
As with most years, this year’s session coincided with the announcement of several retirements. We’re sad to see the departure of Rep Christine Johnson ( D-Salt Lake City) who has been a member of the 100% club for several years including 2010.
There are departures on the Republican side too including Rep Sheryl Allen (R-Bountiful), who was the highest scoring Republican on this year’s scorecards. Allen has served her constituents with grace and hard work for sixteen years and been one of the strongest champions of public education in the legislature. Other departing moderates include Rep Lorie Fowlke (R-Orem) and Rep Fred Hunsaker (R-Logan).
It would be unfair and inaccurate to impute motives for any specific departure, but it is fair to say the legislature remains a very difficult place for representatives concerned with improving the environment, education and the public welfare generally.
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