How O₂ Utah passed a major air quality bill
HB 220 fits nicely into the cliche of years in the making — dating back to O₂ Utah’s start at the tail end of 2019. But for a brief history of how the bill came to be, let’s trace it back to October 12, 2021.
At a press conference on that date at the Capitol, HB 220’s floor sponsor, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, announced the rollout of O₂ Utah’s legislative framework, Prosperity 2030, which aims to reduce emissions by 50% along the Wasatch Front by 2030.
Prosperity 2030 proposes emission reductions from all three of the main, local pollution sources: transportation, homes and buildings, and industrial sources. HB 220, billed as Part One of Prosperity 2030, addresses industrial pollutants.
On that same October day, Cullimore told Fox13, “This might be outside of my usual wheelhouse, but maybe that’s what can help get support that might not have otherwise been there.”
But how did the bill’s two sponsors, Cullimore and Rep. Andrew Stoddard, get involved with Prosperity 2030 and, eventually, HB 220?
First, and foremost, both Cullimore and Stoddard expressed interest in working to solve Utah’s air pollution problems, leading to a natural partnership with O₂ Utah.
Second, a key step in this story is in our mission statement: clean our state’s air through elections and policy. O₂ Utah believes electoral involvement is critical in passing good environmental policies on the Hill. O₂ Utah campaigned and supported both Cullimore and Stoddard as they ran for re-election in 2022.
Critically, during this step, O₂ Utah communicated with voters — through mailers, text messages, and door knocking — that Cullimore and Stoddard want to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.
We believe having residents know about the candidates’ intentions to clean the air can help win votes and pave the way for real legislation. In fact, we even ran a messaging experiment during this effort that showed swing voters were 16% more likely to support a pro-air quality candidate.
And finally, both legislators dove into the nitty-gritty of air pollution along the Wasatch Front and learned about the problems, causes, and possible solutions.
2023 Legislative Session
Fast forward to the 2023 legislative session, where HB 220 experienced a rollercoaster of amendments but made its way through the Legislature with bipartisan support.
When we introduced HB 220 at the beginning of the session, it was a 60-page piece of legislation with programs for reducing vehicle and railroad pollution, standards for pollution-free construction for our homes and buildings, and pollution caps for the inland port. Within those 60 pages was a section limiting bromine pollution along the Wasatch Front.
After speaking with Cullimore, Stoddard, and other legislators, we focused on passing one short, but powerful, section from the original legislation: bromine pollution.
Unfortunately, cleaning our air does not come easy in Utah. Opponents from industry materialized to fight the bill. They had their way in the House and amended the legislation to a toothless, study bill
This was based on their argument from the "big tobacco" playbook that we just need more information (never mind the fact that we had the study showing US Magnesium is recklessly polluting and supercharging winter-time inversions).
But Cullimore and Stoddard were not satisfied. They amended the bill back to be a meaningful mandate to clean up bromine pollution on the Wasatch Front and successfully passed it through the Senate.
Quick civics lesson: Because different versions of the bill had been approved in each chamber, it then needed a conference committee to work out distinctions. The conference committee, comprised of three House and three Senate members, reached a compromise for the current form of HB 220.
And thanks to our two sponsors, the compromise version remained an impactful bill, requiring a deadline for pollution reductions and setting in motion the creation of a state standard. This version quickly passed the House and Senate floors before Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill into law.
HB 220's journey from a concept to gaining support among lawmakers through electoral involvement to passing into law during a frenetic legislative process perfectly encapsulates the O₂ Utah method at work.