HB49: Bill would push converting school buses to natural gas


By Caleb Larkin
Capital West News

LAYTON – A Layton representative is focusing his 2015 legislative agenda on on clean air bills and working to convert large vehicles from running on diesel to compressed natural gas.

Republican Rep. Steve Handy hopes to reduce pollutant emissions by addressing the most significant sources: school buses, personal vehicles, and semi-trucks.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton

In the upcoming legislative session, Handy has identified three bills as his primary political agenda. His top priority for 2015 is the Clean Fuel School Buses bill, HB49, which will grant money to school districts for the conversion of school buses to alternative fuel vehicles.

“We have already had tremendous publicity for this bill and will continue to have it going forward. It will have a fairly major impact on the air quality in Utah,” Handy said.

The bill, targets the replacement of diesel-powered buses manufactured before 2002 with compressed natural gas (CNG) or other forms of clean fuel. “There is no silver bullet on this thing. We have 2,500 school buses, 1,000 of them are 15-years-old and we simply have an underfunded public school system,” Handy said.

A school district or charter school that meets the set criteria can apply to receive a grant. The funds, which will be disbursed by the State Board of Education, will go towards replacing the buses and installing alternative fuel stations.

“The challenge with any bill is, it’s competing with hundreds of others, especially those that are seeking an appropriation,” Handy said.

Gov. Gary Herbert supported the proposal in 2014 session and allocated money for it in his budget for further implementation, according to Alan Matheson, Herbert’s environmental advisor.

“The bill is important not only because it takes actions that benefit the air quality. But most important, it protects the children that are currently being exposed to the pollutants,” Matheson said.

The bill also builds infrastructure by providing more alternative fueling stations around Utah. Handy believes that more CNG stations will also entice more individuals to buy fuel efficient vehicles.

“Who isn’t an advocate of clean air? It’s going to be important for the public to be informed and get involved by going to their local representatives. It will come down to getting the money,” Handy said.

The bill budgets $20 million for 2016 from the education fund to replace the buses and install fuel stations along the school bus routes.

Handy also has two other bills on his agenda for 2015 dealing with clean air. “66 percent of the air quality problem comes from tailpipes,” Handy said. The Clean Fuel Amendments and Rebates bill, HB15, proposes easing the financial burden of retrofitting a vehicle with CNG by rebating the cost of conversion up to $2,500.

“Since 2008, Utah has had a law to stimulate conversion of vehicles to new clean emissions by offering a tax credit for the cost. It has been clunky and less than 400 cars or individuals have taken advantage of it,” Handy said. Handy expects as the public becomes aware of the rebate, more individuals will be willing to convert their vehicles to natural gas and thereby reduce pollution emissions significantly, improving air quality.

Finally, Handy also intends to sponsor a bill to provide tax incentives for alternative fuel trucks. He hopes the tax incentive will stimulate natural gas purchases and promote the conversion of semi-trucks. This bill is still being developed and is not yet numbered.

A 35-year resident of Layton, Handy received his bachelors’s in English followed by a master’s degree in Human Resources Management at the University of Utah. Currently, the District 16 representative operates an advertising firm under the name Handy Marketing. Handy has served in the Utah State Legislature since his election in April 2010, and sits on six committees, including the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

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