SALT LAKE CITY - A Weber County lawmaker is running legislation that would require the state's Division of Fleet Operations to include more vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is sponsoring Senate Bill 99, calling on the state to ensure that at least half of the fleet used for the transportation of passengers is powered by CNG by July 1, 2018. The Legislature convenes for a 45-day session on Jan. 27.
He said his initiative comes from personal experience of converting to CNG vehicles for his plumbing wholesale business, Great Western Supply, which now has three CNG-powered cars among its vehicles.
"They're working good. It's given me enthusiasm that if I can do it, everybody can," Jenkins said of switching to an alternative fuel vehicle. He also said the notion that it's hard to find places to fuel his CNG fleet is a poor argument.
"There are plenty of places to refuel all along the Wasatch Front. Just because there isn't a CNG outlet on every corner doesn't mean there is a problem," Jenkins said.
Asked if he was an environmentalist, the Plain City Republican said he believes in being a good steward of the environment. "I want to clean up the air," Jenkins said.
Jenkins contends air quality is better along the Wasatch Front than it's been since 1952. "That doesn't mean we can stop, but it also doesn't mean we're failing. That's the part I need people to understand. We're doing a good job but we've got to keep doing better," he said.
The bill is seen as yet another step by state lawmakers to address air quality issues along the Wasatch Front, where 65 percent of the pollution linked to inversions is linked to tailpipe emissions. CNG vehicles run cleaner than conventional diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles.
The bill is one of two measures sponsored by Jenkins in the coming session that address environmental concerns. He is also the sponsor of legislation to reauthorize the air conservation act.
Jenkins' push for a state fleet with CNG vehicles dovetails into a pattern of promoting alternative fuel vehicles at the state level. Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, passed legislation in 2013 pushing a three-pronged approach to use cleaner air alternatives, including CNG, with Questar as a catalyst and focused on building CNG fueling stations throughout the state.
Gov. Gary Herbert outlined a 2015 budget plan in December that includes money for clean air initiatives. The budget, which will be considered by the Legislature in the coming session, proposes $1.8 billion in new funding for air quality research and $1.3 million in grants to help small businesses upgrade to emissions-reducing equipment. It also proposes spending $14.3 million in funding to replace old school buses and the state fleet and also puts $600,000 aside to focus on better energy efficiency in state buildings.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, has a bill file addressing the bus replacement, which goes beyond what Herbert has proposed and includes $7 million in potential spending to address building infrastructure for bus shop retrofits to accommodate the change to cleaner fuels.
The air quality push appears to be increasingly bipartisan.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring legislation that would raise caps on sales taxes for transit to about 1 cent per dollar in counties and cities along the Wasatch Front that allow more transit options -- in an effort to incentivize the public to use public transportation.
Rep Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, has sponsored three bills on air-quality-related issues, while Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, has a bill going so far as to deal with a change in definition of air contaminants.