BYU students, lawmakers prioritize environmental care

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BYU students Zach Clement and Anne Thomas hold the banner for the BYU Earth Stewardship club. The club’s mission is to increase awareness of environmental issues on campus. (Josh Ellis)

BYU freshman Zach Clement still remembers feeling upset when he couldn’t ride his bike while growing up in Utah Valley because of heavy air pollution.

Clement, along with other Utah residents, said the government needs to be involved to make lasting changes to improve environmental quality.

This year, the Utah Legislature has responded to the call. At least 15 bills address environmental quality in the 2018 general session, and so far, lawmakers have not killed any of them.

“For a long time, Utah’s kind of ignored the environment and treated it as something that needs to be exploited,” said Clement, an officer in the BYU Earth Stewardship club. “But I think that we need to treat it as something that needs to be protected.” 

One example is HB331, introduced on Feb. 6 by Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine. The bill would require driver’s education programs to teach drivers how they can help improve air quality and about the harmful effects of vehicle emissions.

The bill would also require the Drivers License Division to provide educational information on emissions to applicants for driver’s licenses.

Kennedy said the inspiration for HB331 came from a constituent who bought a more fuel-efficient car after he realized he could do more to reduce air pollution.

Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, speaks at a press conference on clean air bills. Kennedy’s bill, HB331, aims to educate drivers on the consequences of vehicle emissions. (Office of Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine)

“After that experience, I realized that information actually changed behavior,” Kennedy said. “I started to think of ways that we can better educate drivers about what they can do to decrease emissions.”

HB331 passed in House committee on Feb. 13.

SB15, passed by the both the House and Senate, clarifies qualifications for the state environmental health scientist, who is responsible for enforcing state and public health laws, including laws on air quality and hazardous waste disposal.

The bill also extends the position until 2028 at the request of the Utah Department of Health.

While air quality is a recurring theme among the 2018 legislative session, it’s not the only environmental issue lawmakers are addressing.

HB27, passed by both the House and Senate, aims to fix underground petroleum storage tanks that leak into the ground and contaminate groundwater. The bill would require owners to upgrade or replace their tanks in order to qualify for state loans from the Petroleum Storage Tank Trust Fund.

“We’re moving in the right direction in this area, both in environmental cleanup and financial stewardship,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, sponsor of HB27.

Environmental cleanup is currently difficult in rural counties, where the counties must pay to transport tires so they can be properly recycled.

HB76, proposed by Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, would reimburse 100 percent of the cost for transporting and recycling tires from rural counties. The bill passed in House committee on Feb. 2. 

“There is a challenge in rural areas in the state in getting tires to appropriate recycling centers,” said Paul Rogers, representative of Republic Waste Services.

Rep. Sandall also sponsors HB130, which would make some changes to the Utah Conservation Commission, including adding air to the resources the commission aims to protect.

“Air resources was added in there, I believe as a way going forward, that we can look for ways that air resources can be protected by these districts,” Sandall said.

HB130 has passed the House and in Senate committee.

HB101, which would require emissions testing for diesel vehicles in Utah county, and HB211, which would appropriate $2 million to the Department of Air Quality to reduce freight switcher emissions, have both passed in House committee.

Lawmakers have also filed several concurrent and joint resolutions on environmental quality and global warming.

BYU senior Anne Thomas, president of the BYU Earth Stewardship club, said she hopes the focus on the environment this year will be part of a larger perspective shift to make environmental quality a bipartisan concern.

It’s important the legislature understands how environmental issues impact their constituents, according to Thomas.

“Our Heavenly Father wants us to take good care of the place and the gifts that he’s given us,” Thomas said.

Update: Five of the seven bills discussed in this article were signed and approved by Governor Herbert. HB0076 and HB0211 did not pass.

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