Subsidies to reduce emissions may be part of plan for $100 million to improve Utah's air

Governor Herbert's 2019 budget proposal includes $100 million to improve Utah's air — up from $850,000 in 2018. (Photo: KUTV)

Governor Gary Herbert’s budget recommendation calls for $100 million to be spent on improving Utah’s air quality during the next fiscal year.

Plans for how that money would be used have not yet been drafted, but the governor voiced support Thursday morning for providing subsidies to replace wood-burning stoves.

“For really a nominal amount of money, it’s a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, we make a significant difference over the pollution that goes, particularly during inversion time,” Herbert said.

Alan Matheson, who leads the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, called the funding proposal a “significant commitment to air quality,” adding “$100 million is far more than this state has ever seen.”

Last year, Herbert proposed about $850,000 related to air quality, mostly for research.

Matheson said some ideas for the money include replacing high-emitting lawnmowers and snowblowers in addition to “off-road diesel equipment that’s especially dirty, locomotives, things that are significant contributors to our pollution, but without a subsidy, wouldn’t be able to be transferred out of our airshed.”

Kerry Kelly, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah who also serves on DEQ’s clean air policy advisory board, said subsidies for getting older cars off the roads would reduce emissions.

“Typically these oldest engines and oldest vehicles are the most polluting,” Kelly said, “so coming up with incentives or strategies to get rid of those.”

Their ideas are simply that right now — ideas, as DEQ has not yet come up with plans for the funding. Lawmakers would have to approve the $100 million as part of the budget.

“There’s a lot of areas we can put that money into helping clean up the air,” Herbert said, “and it will be data- and science-driven.”

Matheson pointed out progress, saying people in Utah produced 38 percent fewer emissions in 2017 compared to 2002, despite hundreds of thousands more people moving into the state. He said the $100 million would allow even more progress.

Kelly characterized the funding as “a great start.”

“I think it is likely to move the needle a couple percent,” she said, “which doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’ve looked at this problem for 10 years, and you see people get really excited if you can make improvements by like 0.1 percent, I think this could make a big difference.”

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