Although he did not garner a huge gathering, Utah State Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber City) hosted a lively and informative town hall meeting at the Park City Library on Saturday, delving into a multitude of issues and bills of importance this legislative session.
Powell began the town hall by speaking about some of the "big picture" issues at stake this legislative session, first among them being air quality.
The four main areas of focus the legislature is focusing on include: the appointment of a state sustainability director, $1 million in air quality-related research funding, $7 million in public education initiatives and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency's Tier III emissions standards.
Powell said he supports any reasonable measures to restrict pollution of refineries and factories, but added that 56 percent of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter of concern in the Salt Lake Valley, is caused by tailpipe emissions, while only 12 percent is attributed to factories, as per an EPA study.
Transportation infrastructure funding is another key issue, Powell said, and much of the funding for certain road and bridge projects has come from the state gas tax. The gas tax, however, is measured in pennies and not by percentage, and has remained the same for the last 15 years.
Cities and counties also receive their Class B and C road monies through the gas tax. A proposal to switch the gas tax to a percentage is in the legislature, and Powell said it will be "cleverly crafted" by others as not being a tax increase.
Of concern to many Park City-area restaurant owners and customers are the "intent to dine" and "separate dispensing area" parts of the Utah liquor laws.
The "intent to dine" provision requires restaurants to only serve alcoholic beverages to patrons after they have confirmed their intent to order food. The "separate dispensing area" requires post-2010 licensed restaurants to wall off the area where alcoholic beverages are prepared.
"I came to the conclusion that the goals we're trying to achieve reduce underage drinking, binge drinking and drunk driving are minimally served, if at all, by these particular restrictions we're putting on restaurants," Powell said.
Since, Powell said, about eight percent of all alcohol is consumed in restaurants, these previously mentioned problems are probably not happening in restaurants. Thus, one of Powell's sponsored bills, H.B. 285, would remove these provisions from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.
Prompted by an idea from Park City Council member Andy Beerman, Powell is drafting legislation that seeks to address what he calls "energy choice." The bill would allow a city or county to act as a bulk purchaser of renewable energy for its residents.
The bill is similar in nature to 2012's "eBay bill," which allowed the company to contract with an outside renewable energy provider, while Rocky Mountain Power provided transmission of the power. However, Powell said that Rocky Mountain Power could not support his bill, saying that accommodating hundreds of individual homes is different than accommodating one large business.
Beerman suggested Powell introduce the bill anyway, stating, "It shines a light on [the issue] if you float the bill."
Powell is unsure if he wants to engage in two fights with the utility company in one year, however, as the company is also proposing a net metering change that would charge a monthly fee to those customers who generate power through solar panels or wind turbines.
Regardless of whether those seeking greater energy choices can persuade Rocky Mountain Power to cooperate, Powell is at least optimistic that addressing environmental issues is a priority for the legislature.
"For the first time, I'm having Republicans who are willing to [address] environmental concerns," Powell said.