By Makenzie Wistisen
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – A proposed bill would raise fees for crimes against the environment to spend on protecting it.
In its basic outline, SB208 authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to use a larger portion of penalty money for environmental remediation. Fifty percent of the funds collected from civil penalties, may be used by the Clean Air, Retrofit, Replacement and Off-Road Technology Program grants, a program under the umbrella of the department.
A Senate committee passed out the bill with a favorable recommendation Thursday, Feb. 26.
In light of fears concerning a revenue generating game, Sen. Ruz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, proposed an amendment to the bill in order to cap the penalty funds available to grants. Fifty percent would cap the well at $200,000.
During the committee hearing, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, question the use of the funds. “Where does the money go, where does it currently go, what kind of a fund would it go into and how do we control it?” he asked.
Currently, any money related to Air Conservation Act fines is held in a general fine stash. SB208 would direct that half of those funds (with a cap at $200,000) be given to the grant program, which could help municipalities and other agencies retrofit vehicles to cleaner burning fuel.
Air Conservation Act fines collected over the past five years was $137,000. With the increase in fines however, it’s estimated that the total collection of fines in the next five years will be $271,000 dollars. Fifty percent of $271,000 is nearly the same as the total over the past five years.
Scott Baird, Director of Government Affairs for the Department of Environmental Quality, clarified a point made to the statute of limitations regarding the five-year policy. He said, “This change would allow us to actually take some action.”
As a concerned citizen, Logan resident Tess Davis said, “As Utahn’s we’re all well aware of how poor air quality can impact public health and the quality of life and the economic viability of our state. That said, Sen. Escamilla’s bill will not only prioritize clean air initiatives, but in turn mirrors the priorities set forth in the Utah Air Conservation Act.”