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Clean air advocates say state legislators' 2014 efforts to cut pollution don't make the grade

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah advocates calling for more laws to cut pollution say state legislators this year didn't try hard enough to clean up sooty wintertime air.

Representatives from three clean-air groups at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon released a report card evaluating Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers for their efforts to address air quality during the 2014 legislative session, which ended last week.

"This is something that the state needs to take a lot more seriously than they have," said Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "We are seriously disappointed."

The governor earned a "B'' for calling on lawmakers in January to limit smoke from wood-burning stoves and to help convert diesel-fueled school busses to cleaner fuel, among other requests. Herbert on the session's closing evening praised some successful bills but said he had hoped lawmakers would pass more measures to cut pollution.

Lawmakers in the House earned a "B-" after a bipartisan group brought over a dozen measures to cut pollution. But the Senate made a "D'' after a measure to broaden state regulators' power to make further reaching rules than federal regulators failed to get a vote in that chamber. Meanwhile, a bill designed to hike public transit use by allowing counties to raise local sales tax and put the extra cash toward more frequent bus routes underwent significant changes in the Senate.

A successful bill to help about 200 homes in the state's northern urban corridor transition household heat from wood-burning stoves to cleaner ones is a "small step" forward, Moench said.

Regulators say the wood smoke and emissions stay trapped in valleys for up to weeks at a time due to Utah's mix of mountainous landscape and weather patterns.

Ingrid Griffee of Utah Moms for Clean Air said Tuesday she was shocked to see a bill to create a fleet of electric school busses pass but receive no money.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem said improving air quality is a priority for senators but the clean bus proposal was among a number of bills that did not make it into the budget in last-minute negotiations.

Valentine noted he is disappointed that bills to encourage cleaner-burning fuels in Utah and to adjust state gas tax also got curbed. With such measures, "I think we can actually change behaviors," he said.

Advocates on Tuesday said they planned to continue their efforts. "I hope we can start carrying some weight and really work with these guys," said CleanAirNow! founder Carl Ingwell, "and make sure that these types of bills get passed in the future."

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