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Officials: Without state dollars, Utah clean air panel established in 2013 is set to dissipate

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SALT LAKE CITY — A committee hoping to cut the wintertime smog blanketing Salt Lake City is dissolving about a year after it formed.

Legislators hoped the Alternative Energy Interlocal Entity Board would help improve air quality with a roster of high-profile city officials and lawmakers.

The panel was tasked with finding ways to use cleaner fuels, especially natural gas.

But lawmakers stopped short of setting budget money toward the effort, so the board is quietly dissolving, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1vcFJ9d).

The Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Office of Energy Development, the panel's sponsoring agencies, are in the process of disbanding it. The UTA Board is expected to approve the move later this month.

The Legislature never funded the group, and the UTA and the Office of Energy Development say it's not their job to pay for it.

"We have to figure out, as Utahans, ways to actually make a difference" in cutting pollution, said panelist Chris Bleak, who sits on the UTA Board. "That also requires paying for it."

Lawmakers charged the committee with finding ways to expand Utah's natural-gas fueling network, converting more vehicles to run on that fuel and finding ways to make use of other alternative fuels.

"But there's no money to do it," Bleak said. "The Legislature is going to have to wrestle with this."

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, tried to remedy the problem this year with an unsuccessful measure to add $1 a month to utility bills to go toward reducing air pollution.

In the wake of such failures, some advocates say the state is losing the battle against bad air.

"We're regressing, not progressing," said Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air.

The board is one component of "a lot of feel-good stuff" coming through the Legislature in response to public demand to improve air quality, she said. They pass "small bills that aren't all that consequential," Udell added.

Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment, agreed. "It's kind of a schizophrenic approach to public policy," he said of the panel, which he called "one of many missed opportunities to reduce air pollution."

Meanwhile, UTA is moving forward with its own cleaner-fuel measures, turning to compressed natural gas. It's added 24 CNG-fueled buses to its fleet this year and plans to order at least as many in the next two years. The agency won't buy any more diesel buses in the next several years, said UTA General Manager Michael Allegra.

The CNG buses cost more initially than diesel-fueled ones, but the compressed fuel costs less in the long run, officials report.

UTA is also planning its own natural-gas fueling station in downtown Salt Lake City, with a new garage to maintain the growing natural-gas fleet.

"I do hope we're at the beginning and not at the end" of pushing natural gas and other fuels, Bleak said, despite the looming death of the alternative-energy board.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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