SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers waited until almost the end of the legislative session to approve a clean-air initiative that could raise the gas rates for Questar customers.
Members of the House and Senate put the final wraps on a proposal by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to push use of compressed natural gas for large vehicles as a means of reducing emissions in an ongoing battle to reduce air pollution levels in Utah.
The bill was finalized at 10:44 p.m., just a little more than an hour from the session deadline.
The bill takes a three-pronged approach to using a cleaner fuel alternative, with Questar as a key catalyst.
Questar could be put in a position to request a gas rate increase to fund the program, Adams said. He estimated any potential gas rate increase would amount to 8 cents a month, or less than a dollar a year.
The legislation focuses on building CNG fueling stations throughout the state and would create an interlocal agency with the ability to bond for natural gas fleet purchases.
The bill directs the Public Service Commission to explore options to advance and promote clean-air measures and provides a cost-recovery system, through Questar, that would pay for natural-gas fueling stations.
Adams said interlocal agreements with school districts or municipalities will be part of a conversion plan to a cleaner fuel source. He said Questar would fund that initiative through a conservation fund, which may need an infusion of as much as $5 million to move forward with the program.
Some members of the House tried to raise that gas ceiling Wednesday, saying $5 million isn’t much to wage a statewide campaign to switch to CNG, but that amendment was defeated after opponents worried it would raise gas rates far beyond 8 cents a month.
The bill’s final language gives the PSC the opportunity to raise that ceiling after one year, if it finds it to be in the public’s interest. The measure sunsets after five years.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said it’s time to act.
“If we are going to make a significant difference, we have to take significant measures,” he said.
Opposition came from both sides of the aisle, from lawmakers claiming they like the bill but not the funding mechanism.
“I think this is an onerous burden to be laid on ratepayers. These costs hit the working class, the lower class the hardest,” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, thinks funding for the bill is targeted to the wrong group.
“This bill is shifting the burden to rate payers, not shareholders. I encourage us not to do that.”
The measure is one of two clean-air-related measures approved by the Legislature during the 45-day session.