2024 State Legislative Debrief: Utah

Mar 28, 2024

By Rachael Hamby

So much for small government

Utah’s state legislature meets annually for a 45-day session during which any topics can be considered. In recent years, with the legislature’s one-party supermajority, this has meant an incredible number of ideas or mere whims escalate rapidly into legislation which becomes law. Of 862 bills and resolutions that were introduced in the 2024 session, 591 were passed by both chambers — a record for the state — and of those only seven were vetoed by Governor Spencer Cox. (For comparison, in New Mexico’s 2024 30-day session, of 658 bills that were introduced, 72 passed both chambers and 69 were signed into law. In Wyoming’s 2024 20-day session, of 353 bill drafts, 121 passed both chambers and 108 were signed into law.) Despite a professed preference for small government, Utah legislators battled what they perceive as government overreach with even more laws and regulations, enacting a number of new programs, funds, and state employee positions, and directing agencies to conduct a variety of studies and develop recommendations for even more legislation and regulations.

“My overarching concern this session was with the sheer number of bills passed,” Cox wrote in his veto letter. “Just like there are meetings that could be emails, sometimes there are bills that could be phone calls,” Cox wrote, encouraging the legislature to set a goal of passing significantly fewer bills in the 2025 session. Only time will tell whether the legislature takes this feedback to heart. Meanwhile, the 2024 session saw a number of bills related to public lands, energy, water, mining, wildlife, wildfire, and more. Most of these reflect the Utah legislature’s anti-conservation and pro-fossil fuel leanings, but a number of pro-conservation ideas were also put forward and a few of those actually passed.

Read on for a summary of the highlights and lowlights from Utah’s 2024 legislative session. Following the summary, peruse a comprehensive list of conservation-related bills, grouped by category, for a full picture of just how many laws were added to Utah’s state code this session.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, BLM Utah

A predictable grab-bag of anti-federal government measures

Utah legislators continued in their tradition of considering a variety of creative measures aimed at reducing the federal government’s power and asserting greater state control over national public lands.

  • Dragging state employees into the war on the federal government: SB 57 Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act, signed by Governor Cox, prohibits state agency employees from enforcing federal directives (statutes, executive orders, rules or regulations) if the Utah legislature determines, via concurrent resolution, that the directive violates the principles of state sovereignty (defined as restricting or infringing upon powers or rights reserved to the state by the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, or the state’s rights or interests to provide for the health, safety and welfare of its inhabitants and to promote their prosperity).
  • Anticipating the demise of Chevron: HB 470 Federal Agency Regulatory Review Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, directs state agencies to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the longstanding “Chevron doctrine” which grants broad deference to federal agencies to interpret federal laws within the agency’s jurisdiction and expertise. HB 470 directs state agencies to identify any federal regulations that impact the agency and that might be impacted by an overturning of Chevron, and authorizes the Utah attorney general to file suit challenging any such federal regulation identified by the state agencies.
  • Still fighting the 2001 Roadless Rule: HB 471 Public Lands Possession Amendments, sponsored by Representative Phil Lyman and signed by Governor Cox, asserts ownership and jurisdiction over any county roads that are on a county’s class B and class D road maps or in the county’s travel plan, declaring the assumption that those roads are public roads open for public use. This is an attempt to get around federal land management agency proposals to close roads that are not actually being used other than on paper in county travel plans — so-called R.S. 2477 (Roadless Rule) roads. The bill authorizes the state and counties to disregard federal road closures for disputed roads and declares the burden of proof to be on the federal government to demonstrate that the disputed road is not a public road.
  • Legislating against the BLM’s Public Lands Rule: HB 496 Public Land Use Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, contains a statement of state opposition to federal “prioritization” of conservation as a use equal to other uses of public lands. This is directed at the federal Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Public Lands Rule, which would put conservation on equal footing with other uses of BLM lands. HB 496 also prohibits natural asset companies (a proposal that does not exist in reality yet) from purchasing or leasing state lands or from holding conservation or ecosystem services leases on public lands within the state. This is directed at a rule proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, since withdrawn, that would have allowed for the creation of natural asset companies that could invest in natural and working lands and ecosystem restoration.
  • Support for U.S. Senator Mike Lee’s McMansions bill: HJR 19 Encouraging Support for the HOUSES Act, passed by both chambers, expresses the state of Utah’s support for the federal Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter (HOUSES) Act of 2023, introduced by Utah’s U.S. Senator Mike Lee. The HOUSES Act attempts to use the affordable housing crisis as an excuse to advocate for selling off national public lands to the highest bidder, with no meaningful affordability or density requirements, and plays right into the state legislature’s enthusiasm for land transfer and other anti-public lands concepts.
  • An after-the-fact rejection of the expired Bears Ears land exchange: HJR 26 Rejecting Exchange of School and Institutional Trust Lands, passed by both chambers, rejects a proposed exchange of Utah School and Institutional Trust lands for federal land in and around Bears Ears National Monument. In March 2023, with the legislature’s approval, Governor Cox had signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of the Interior agreeing to the exchange, but Congress failed to pass a bill to authorize the exchange on its end. The 2023 agreement was set to expire without congressional passage of the bill, so HJR 26’s after-the-fact rejection of something that expired does not change any outcomes, but the legislature took advantage of this situation to express its displeasure with the Bureau of Land Management’s management plan for the monument.

Canyonlands National Park, U.S. Geological Survey

Too extreme even for Utah

State Representatives Ken Ivory and Phil Lyman, and their allies in the legislature, have made names for themselves on the national stage for their anti-public lands views and actions. Some of their anti-public lands and anti-federal government proposals this session, however, were too much even for a legislature that passed 69 percent of bills that were introduced, including a number of anti-federal government bills.

  • Lawmakers decline to require inventory of BLM lands: HB 151 Public Lands Amendments, sponsored by Representative Raymond Ward, would have required the existing Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, as part of its ongoing study and analysis of land transfer issues, to conduct an inventory of federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management within the boundaries of a municipality, and to indicate the municipality’s “intended use” for those parcels, including for recreation, economic development, affordable housing, or other uses. The bill also would have invited municipalities to notify the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office of their interest in, and intended use of, those parcels. This bill was not considered in any committee.
  • Disposal of state trust land is already complicated enough: HB 320 School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration Amendments, sponsored by Representative Lyman, attempted to make several changes to land sales and exchanges. The bill would have required that before any sale, lease, or exchange of trust lands, the director of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) determine the fair market value of the land through a thorough appraisal and market analysis, and submit a report to a legislative committee outlining how the transfer would reflect “prioritization of energy and natural resource development.” The bill also proposed changes to the state’s procedures to transfer land to the federal government, adding a requirement that each legislator whose district wholly or partially overlaps with the land proposed for transfer be notified of the transfer, for transfers of less than 500 acres. Finally, the bill would have prohibited SITLA from transferring any land to the federal government unless the result of the entire transaction is a net decrease in the percentage of federally-managed public land within that county. This bill was not considered by any committee.
  • We’ve had the Tenth Amendment since 1791: HB 409 Presumption of State Jurisdiction Amendments, sponsored by Representative Ivory, would have made a variety of policy statements reiterating concepts already contained in the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution regarding areas of state jurisdiction and authority, but specifically mentioning natural resources, water resources and water rights, agriculture, education, and energy resources. The bill would have also asserted that the burden is on the federal government to establish jurisdiction or authority over subjects not specifically enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. Finally, the bill would have attempted to restrict the federal government’s rights on federal land to rights “only as a landowner” and established the state’s right to “exercise governmental power over the land.” This bill passed out of the House judiciary Committee but failed on the House floor (32 to 40 with 3 not voting).

The Intermountain Power Plant, arbyread via Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Even a coal plant owner-operator is begging the legislature to stop propping up coal

Utah legislators continue to double-down on fossil fuel development in the state to such a desperate extent that even a coal-fired power plant owner-operator asked them to stop (they didn’t listen). SB 161 Energy Security Amendments is a complicated bill that Governor Cox signed, but he also suggested that a special session might be needed to make further adjustments. The bill is designed to prevent the closure of the Intermountain Power Plant, a coal-fired plant, by allowing the state to buy it in hopes that a third party would eventually buy it from the state, despite the current owner being unable to find a buyer for years. Intermountain Power Agency (IPA), the entity that owns the Intermountain Power Plant, had asked Governor Cox to veto the bill since IPA has already invested in building natural gas-fueled plants after failing to find a buyer for the plant; keeping the plant open threatens to disrupt these plans and investments which the company has already made. The requirements of SB 161 would also conflict with commitments IPA has made to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a condition of receiving its permits, inviting litigation and other serious consequences. A related bill, SB 224 Energy Independence Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, similarly adds a number of requirements designed to force the Public Service Commission to take over power plants that would otherwise shut down.

In addition to these efforts specific to power plants, legislators also tinkered with the state’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy to make sure it adequately emphasizes fossil fuels, including unpromising resources such as oil shale and oil sands. HB 374 State Energy Policy Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, largely re-writes the state’s energy policy with an emphasis on market-based solutions, low consumer prices, and a diverse energy portfolio prioritizing coal, oil and gas, and nuclear. The bill redefines “clean” as “minimizing adverse environmental impact and able to meet state standards for environmental quality,” and requires that Utah’s energy resources have a list of attributes, listed in order of priority, with “clean” at the bottom of the list. HB 48 Utah Energy Act Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, modifies the purposes of the existing Office of Energy Development (within the Department of Natural Resources) to include, among other things, funding legal efforts to “combat federal overreach and unreasonable delays regarding energy and environmental permitting.”

All-of-the-above energy. No, not like that.

An all-of-the-above energy strategy? “How about geothermal?” asks SB 257 Geothermal Energy Production Amendments which would have required a study on accelerating geothermal energy development. “How about grid efficiency?” asks SB 191 Grid Enhancing Technologies which would have encouraged the development and deployment of technologies to increase the capacity, efficiency, or reliability of transmission infrastructure. Apparently these technologies are not what was meant by “all-of-the-above” energy, as neither of these bills passed.

Lawmakers went even further in their legislative picking of energy winners and losers, adding more barriers to the deployment of renewable energy. One of the most puzzling bills signed by Governor Cox this session, HB 215 Home Solar Energy Amendments uses a technique more commonly used to manage the sale of items that can be especially dangerous when purchased on impulse, such as guns, requiring a four-business-day waiting period after a homeowner signs a contract with a solar retailer before solar panels can be installed. (Utah does not require any waiting period whatsoever for gun purchases in the state.)

Lawmakers continue to legislate around the edges of Utah’s water problems

One of the most important water-related bills this session was HB 453 Great Salt Lake Revisions, which attracted an unusually long list of co-sponsors and was signed by Governor Cox. In a state that is generally reluctant to impose any regulations on industry, the bill actually increases regulations on water use by mining operations at Great Salt Lake, requires testing and reporting of salinity levels for discharged water, and increases the severance tax on minerals extracted, from 2.6 percent to 7.8 percent, with a few exceptions including if the operator participates in a voluntary agreement to mitigate its water use. Critics remain concerned that companies are still not required to put back as much water as they take out, and that there are no measures in the bill that would increase the amount of water coming into and staying in the lake. HB 535 Water Conservation Modifications might have attempted to partially address this by requiring the Great Salt Lake Commissioner to conduct a study of water conservation strategies that could increase municipal water delivered to the Great Salt Lake; this bill passed the House (70 to 1 with 4 not voting) but did not receive a vote in the Senate. However, regulating industry’s water use from the lake at all, when they could have in theory drained the lake completely dry under previous law, is a step in the right direction.

Despite the progress signaled by HB 453, Utah legislators balanced that out by also passing HB 249 Utah Legal Personhood Amendments, signed by Governor Cox. This bill prohibits any governmental entity from granting or recognizing legal personhood to a list of items and concepts which includes a body of water, land, atmospheric gases, an astronomical object, weather, a plant, a nonhuman animal, or “any other member of a taxonomic domain that is not a human being.” This bill was likely prompted by recent interest in granting legal personhood to Great Salt Lake, an option no longer on the table now that this bill has been signed into law.

Air quality

Despite Utah’s long-time and serious air quality problems, bills to help improve air quality were among the few that did not pass. HB 126 Emissions Regulation Amendments, a bipartisan bill, would have prohibited the Division of Motor Vehicles from registering vehicles over a certain weight that emit a certain level of nitrogen oxides, and would have prohibited counties to exempt certain vehicles from emissions inspections; this bill did not receive a vote in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee. HB 279 Air Quality Amendments would have set a goal of 50 percent reduction in emissions of fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide in certain counties by 2033 and required a number of state agencies to prepare plans to help achieve this goal. It also outlined a process for possible revocation of a vehicle registration if the owner was found to be attempting to register a vehicle from a non-bona fide address to try to avoid certain counties’ stricter emissions regulations. This bill was not considered by any committee.

Meanwhile, HB 373 Environmental Quality Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, takes a variety of steps including: requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to meet regularly with the state’s Federalism Commission, a legislative committee that works on issues of what it considers to be federal overreach. The bill also gives the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, rather than the Air Quality Board, the authority to promulgate rules and issue certifications related to air and water pollution for properties within the division’s jurisdiction. The bill also repealed the Air Quality Policy Advisory Board, created by the Utah legislature in 2017, which had been charged with making recommendations on how to improve air quality in the state based on the best available science. (Just to be absolutely sure, the Air Quality Policy Advisory Board was also repealed by another bill this session, HB 534 Boards and Commissions Modifications.)

Dixie National Forest, John Buie via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Takeaways and looking to next year

Coming out of the 2024 legislative session, the immediate task before legislators and Governor Cox will be to address the difficulties caused by SB161, the bill that props up the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant despite the owner-operator wanting it to close. Utah is likely to continue to seek out creative ways to bolster coal while picking and choosing winners and losers among other renewable and emerging technologies by declining to consider ideas such as energy efficiency or geothermal development.

Utah is likely to also continue to find new ways to legislatively express its antipathy toward the federal government. While many anti-federal government and anti-public lands bills passed this session, some did not, and the concepts in these bills may be brought forward again in a future legislative session. Meanwhile, Utah’s Federalism Commission will continue to identify instances of alleged federal overreach to try to address with even more legislation.

The relative bright spot for conservation was the small but important steps taken to better regulate industrial use of water in Great Salt Lake. With a critical mass of legislators acknowledging the problem and the need to address it, future sessions offer opportunities for the state to continue to take positive steps to better conserve and steward its water resources.

Want to read about even more bills?

See below for a comprehensive summary of conservation-related bills considered by the Utah legislature in the 2024 session and not already covered in the summary above. Bills are grouped into categories: conservation finance; energy; water; mining; air quality; outdoor recreation; wildlife and hunting; wildfire; and miscellaneous other bills of note.

Conservation finance

HB 232 Outdoor Recreation Impacts Fund would have directed 10 percent of existing statewide sales and use tax revenue remitted by sporting goods retailers into an Outdoor Recreation Impacts Fund which would have been distributed to counties for avalanche forecasting or to mitigate the impacts of outdoor recreation, including search and rescue, emergency medical services, fire protection, law enforcement, and waste disposal. Similar sporting good sales tax diversions exist elsewhere, including Georgia (which dedicates those revenues to conservation and stewardship) and Texas (which dedicates those revenues to state parks). This bill passed out of committee and received a floor vote in the House, where it narrowly failed to pass (by a vote of 34–36 with 5 not voting).

HB 262 School and Institutional Trust Lands Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, allows for the sale of trust lands to the Department of Natural Resources if the sale is for the fair market value of the parcel or aggregation of parcels. The bill also allows for such a sale to occur without complying with the advertising requirements that normally must be met as long as written notice has been provided and public comment has been invited at an open meeting. This will make it easier for the Department of Natural Resources to purchase or lease lands for conservation and wildlife purposes, especially if the risk of being outbid by another entity is reduced by waiving the advertising requirement.

SJR 2 Prohibition on Real Estate Transfer Tax would have amended the Utah state constitution to prohibit any new taxes or fees on the transfer of real estate. This would have removed a potential new revenue source that could have in theory been tapped for conservation purposes (as some other states have done) in the future. This resolution received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, but did not receive a final floor vote in the Senate.

Energy

HB 117 Wind Energy Facility Siting Modifications, signed by Governor Cox, requires that a wind energy facility owner complete the federal Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse process, and to file documentation that the facility will not have an adverse impact on the military, before beginning construction of a wind facility.

HB 124 Energy Infrastructure Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, expands the definition of projects eligible for the existing High Cost Infrastructure Development Tax Credit to include:

  • Energy delivery projects, including enhanced geothermal, hydroelectric storage, utility-scale battery storage, and nuclear generation;
  • Emissions reduction projects that are designed to reduce the emissions of an existing facility, including through carbon capture, utilization and sequestration;
  • Mineral processing projects; and
  • Water purification projects, including those associated with mineral or deep water mining operations.

The bill also changes the composition of the Utah Energy Infrastructure Board, including adding a member appointed jointly by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the Utah Manufacturer’s Association, the Utah Mining Association, and the Utah Petroleum Association.

HB 191 Electrical Energy Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, adds a number of criteria that must be met before the early retirement of an electrical generation facility may be authorized, including a determination that the early retirement is not being undertaken in order to take advantage of any financial incentives or benefits offered by a federal agency This sets a high bar for early retirement of, for example, a coal-fired power plant.

HB 215 Home Solar Energy Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, adds requirements to agreements between solar retailers and customers, seemingly designed to encourage buyer’s remorse. Solar retailers must provide a disclosure statement on paper (removing the option of providing this electronically). Curiously, using a technique more commonly used to manage the sale of items that can be especially dangerous when purchased on impulse, such as guns, installation of the system may not begin until at least four business days after the contract is signed between the retailer and the customer. The bill also requires retailers to take steps to facilitate cancellation of an agreement by the customer after it is signed.

HB 241 Clean Energy Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, replaces “renewable energy” with “clean energy” across Utah’s statues, and defines “clean energy” to include a long list of options including wind, solar, and geothermal, but also biomass, captured methane, nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture.

HB 317 Energy Storage Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, directs the Office of Energy Development to study the feasibility, benefits, and risks of creating a transportation, heating, and electricity-generating fuel storage reserve.

HB 410 Utah San Rafael State Energy Lab, signed by Governor Cox, appropriates $2 million to establish the Utah San Rafael Energy Lab and the Utah Energy Research Fund. The Lab is charged with conducting and facilitating energy research and development projects that align with the state’s energy policy (see HB 374).

HB 452 Carbon Capture Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, merges two existing funds into a new Carbon Dioxide Storage Fund, and allows the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining to impose fees and deposit money from those fees into the fund and to use money from the fund for certain purposes including oversight and monitoring of carbon dioxide storage facilities. The bill also clarifies that oversight of carbon dioxide storage facilities transfers to the state when an injection project is completed.

SB 191 Grid Enhancing Technologies would have encouraged the development and deployment of technologies to increase the capacity, efficiency, or reliability of transmission infrastructure. The bill passed the Senate (24 to 0 with 5 not voting) but did not receive a final floor vote in the House.

SB 249 Public Utility Expenditures Amendments would have prohibited public utilities from recovering advertising, lobbying, and political activity costs from ratepayers. The bill did not make it out of the Senate Business and Labor Committee.

SB 257 Geothermal Energy Production Amendments would have required the Unified Economic Opportunity Commission to conduct a study on accelerating geothermal energy development, including geological assessments and developing regulations and incentives. The bill received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee, but did not receive a final floor vote in the Senate.

Water

HB 57 Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, repeals the existence of the Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council. The 100 mile-long Snake Valley straddles the border between Utah and Nevada, and the aquifer underlying the valley was at the center of a long-running water dispute between Utah and Nevada. The council’s job had been to compile a variety of scientific data about the impacts of the use of water from the aquifer.

HB 62 Utah Water Ways Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, adds to the duties of the existing Utah Water Ways program; the program now must coordinate with the State Board of Education to develop resources to be used in public schools that educate students on topics such as the jobs and products created by industries that use water, and the importance of the agricultural industry. These resources are specifically prohibited from including information about human-caused climate change.

HB 206 Columbia Interstate Compact Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, repeals Utah’s ratification of the Columbia Interstate Compact. The compact was originally agreed to in 1962 by the Columbia River Basin states (Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) and ratified by Utah in 1963, and was intended to facilitate the management of water resources, power development, pollution, fish and wildlife, and recreation in the basin.

HB 242 Water Usage Data Amendments would have required state agencies to report their water use, and required the Division of Water Resources to conduct a study of water use in public schools. This bill passed out of the House Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee and received a floor vote in the House, where it narrowly failed to pass (35–34 with 6 not voting; 38 votes are required for a bill to pass the Utah state House).

HB 280 Water Related Changes, signed by Governor Cox, requires the development of a state water plan that identifies available water resources and recommends strategies to optimize water resources, consistent with the state’s existing water policy, as well as a unified water infrastructure plan. The bill also creates a new Water Infrastructure Fund that can be used in part for these planning activities.

HB 295 Produced Water Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, directs the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining to regulate produced water from oil and gas operations, including disposal of produced water into injection wells.

HB 401 Water Usage Amendments would have prohibited irrigating lawns or turf in certain counties from October through April, with a few exceptions. The bill did not pass out of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

HB 448 State Water Program Reporting Requirements would have required the Division of Water Resources to monitor and report on various legislative efforts including agricultural water optimization, the use of water banks or other water marketing efforts, and funding for installation of secondary water meters. This bill passed the House (65 to 5 with 5 not voting) and was considered in the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee but did not receive a favorable recommendation from that committee or a floor vote in the Senate.

HB 472 Water Revisions would have directed the Divisions of Water Resources and the Division of Water Rights to cooperate on a study of the creation of a water database and water data center. After failing its first floor vote in the House (34 to 31 with 10 not voting), the House moved to reconsider and held another floor vote which was successful (64 to 3 with 8 not voting). The bill was considered by the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, but did not receive a favorable committee report or a floor vote in the Senate.

HB 524 Water Interests Study would have required the State Engineer to study a set of issues related to transfers of residential-related water interests separate from transfers of related land. This bill passed the House (45 to 22 with 8 not voting) but was not considered in the Senate.

HJR 27 Encouraging Water-efficient Landscaping Ordinances for New Construction, a bipartisan resolution, would have expressed recognition of the importance of water to the state and encouraged water-efficient landscaping. This resolution passed the House (63 to 6 with 6 not voting) and received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, but did not receive a floor vote in the Senate.

SB 18 Water Modifications, signed by Governor Cox, adds conserving water as a beneficial use of water and makes a number of changes to implement that concept.

SB 55 Bear Lake Preservation Amendments would have encouraged the protection of Bear Lake’s water quality and natural characteristics for fish and wildlife and for outdoor recreation. This bill was assigned to, but not considered by, the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

SB 118 Water Efficiency Amendments would have appropriated $1 million to provide incentives for water-efficient landscaping in new residential development in the Great Salt Lake Basin. This bill passed the Senate (25 to 0 with 4 not voting) and received a favorable recommendation from the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, but did not receive a floor vote in the House.

SB 195 Golf Course Amendments would have classified golf course water use data as “protected” under the Government Records Access and Management Act, Utah’s state-level analogue to the federal Freedom of Information Act, and would have required a study of the use of water on golf courses in the state (the results of which would be shielded from public view under the bill’s other provisions). The bill passed the Senate (26 to 0 with 3 not voting) but failed in the House (17 to 49 with 9 not voting).

SB 196 Great Salt Lake Amendments would have directed the Great Salt Lake Commissioner to make a plan to maximize the amount of water that goes into the Great Salt Lake during a year with higher-than-usual precipitation or runoff. The bill received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, but did not receive a final floor vote in the Senate.

SB 211 Generational Water Infrastructure Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, creates a new Water District Water Development Council, made up of the four largest water conservancy districts in the state, which will be charged with assessing “generational water needs” and identifying water sources to help meet those needs, including water conservation measures. The bill also creates a new “Utah water agent” whose job will include identifying, and negotiating the importation of, out-of-state water resources.

SB 270 Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake Study Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, appropriates $1.5 million to study how to conserve and restore Utah Lake.

Mining

SB 75 Mineral Amendments would have made a number of technical changes to definitions and to the issuance of tax credit certificates, but also included a provision that requested that the federal government consult with the state before making any designation that might impact the exploration or development of critical mineral deposits in the state. The bill passed the Senate (26 to 1 with 2 not voting) and received a favorable recommendation from the House Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, but did not receive a floor vote in the House.

HB 353 Mining Operations Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, makes a number of technical changes to the regulation of mining operations.

HB 433 Brine Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, adds definitions for brine and brine mining, as well as a new designation for “multiple mineral development areas” where multiple surface and subsurface mining operations are occurring simultaneously. The bill directs the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining to study brine mining further and to develop recommendations for legislation and regulations.

HB 502 Critical Infrastructure and Mining, signed by Governor Cox, directs the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining to conduct a study of critical infrastructure materials operations and related mining.

SB 172 Protection Areas Revisions would have made a number of technical changes to certain types of protected areas, including “critical infrastructure materials protection areas.” This bill was considered in the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Service Committee and the Senate Business and Labor Committee but did not receive favorable recommendations from either.

Air quality

SB 142 Lawn Equipment Tax Credit Amendments would have created a new tax credit for sales of new electric lawn equipment. This bill was assigned to, but not considered by, the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.

SB 170 Clean Truck Incentive Program would have created an incentive program for purchasing clean trucks and allowed the Division of Air Quality to pursue federal funds to help fund the program; this bill was assigned to, but not considered by, the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee.

Outdoor recreation

HB 23 Division of Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council Sunset Extension, signed by Governor Cox, extends the sunset date of a council that advises the Division of Outdoor Recreation on boating policies from 2024 to 2029.

HB 65 Active Transportation and Canal Trail Amendments, a bipartisan bill, would have made resources available to encourage the development of trails along canal corridors. The House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee amended the bill but ultimately decided to take no further action, and the bill did not receive a floor vote in the House.

HB 88 Landowner Liability Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, updates Utah’s existing limitations on landowner liability related to recreational use of land to include rock climbing as a recreational use. Current law strictly limits a landowner’s liability for injury or other harm sustained while recreating on the land. In general, liability limitations like this help enable landowners to allow recreational access to their land without the fear of lawsuits brought by members of the public who get injured while recreating on their land.

HB 90 Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, updates the definition of “outdoor recreation infrastructure,” for the purposes of eligibility for funds from the Outdoor Adventure Infrastructure Restricted Account, to include unpaved trails, campgrounds, water recreation infrastructure, and facilities that are accessible to those with disabilities. The bill also expands the allowable uses of money from the fund to include costs of bringing outdoor infrastructure projects into environmental compliance, strategic planning for outdoor recreation infrastructure, and avalanche safety forecasting.

HB 120 State Park Funding Amendments would have allowed interest generated by money in the State Park Fees Restricted Account to remain in the account, rather than going to the state’s general fund. The bill passed the House and out of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee in the Senate but did not receive a final floor vote in the Senate.

HB 159 Bears Ears Visitor Center Advisory Committee Repeal Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, extends the sunset date for the Bears Ears Visitor Center Advisory Committee from 2024 to 2026. The committee includes representatives from the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, as well as a member of the Utah Senate and two members of the Utah House, and is responsible for studying and making recommendations regarding a visitor center at Bears Ears National Monument.

HB 235 Eminent Domain Amendments would have extended the state’s right of eminent domain to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. This bill was not considered by any committee.

HB 360 Outdoor Recreation Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, allows the Division of Outdoor Recreation to accept volunteer labor or funding from private individuals for outdoor recreation infrastructure maintenance and directs the division to promulgate rules to regulate such maintenance work and partnerships between private and public entities.

HB 402 State Campgrounds Amendments would have established a process for creating and managing state campgrounds on state land. The bill passed the House (72 to 0 with 3 not voting) and the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee but did not receive a floor vote in the Senate.

SB 108 Veteran Access to State Parks, a bipartisan bill signed by Governor Cox, creates a pilot program to grant free admission to Utah’s state parks for honorably discharged veterans who are Utah residents and hold an Interagency Military-Lifetime Pass for national parks and federal recreational lands.

Wildlife and hunting

HB 195 Land Use Planning Amendments would have required counties and municipalities to consider the impacts of development on wildlife, wildlife movement, and wildlife habitat, and how those impacts could be mitigated, when preparing and adopting general plans (which are required under Utah state law) and land use regulations. This bill was not considered by any committee.

HB 222 Wildlife Hunting Amendments and HB 382 Wildlife Amendments, both signed by Governor Cox, made a wide variety of updates to the state’s hunting laws.

HB 297 Utah Bee Inspection Act Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, prohibits local governments from adopting restrictions on beekeeping that are more restrictive than state laws and regulations. The bill also directs the Department of Agriculture and Food to convene a working group to develop recommendations for standards for beekeeping regulations.

HB 469 Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, creates a Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Natural Resources. Many of the wildlife-related law enforcement actions the department was already authorized to undertake (related to poaching or invasive species, for example) are now centralized under the Division of Law Enforcement, with the addition of the authority to initiate civil proceedings (in addition to criminal proceedings).

HCR 13 Related to the Division of Wildlife Resources, signed by Governor Cox, expresses a variety of not-entirely-consistent sentiments related to wolves and their management and encourages the Division of Wildlife Resources to capture wolves found in Utah and return them to Colorado. This is preferable to encouraging hunters to shoot any wolf that ventures across the border.

HCR 16 Supporting Ownership and the Protection of Private Property expressed a belief that it is the responsibility of state, local, and Tribal governments to proactively protect private property from any encroachment by wildlife and to compensate owners for any damage caused by the public or by wildlife. This resolution was not considered by any committee.

HJR 29 Concerning the Importance of Insects would have recognized the role of insects in the environment and urged the state to consider policies to promote healthy and diverse insect populations. This resolution was not considered by any committee.

Wildfire

HB 175 Impact Fees Amendments would have removed a prohibition on charging impact fees on residential development to pay for fire suppression vehicles. In theory, this could have helped ensure that the costs of residential development reflect the development’s fire risk and that those costs be borne by the development rather than by the local government. This bill was not considered by any committee.

HB 437 Fire Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, appropriates $4 million to the Wildland Fire Suppression Fund and another $4 million to the Wildland-urban Interface Prevention, Preparedness, and Mitigation Fund. The bill also directs the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to analyze whether an additional high-risk category should be added to the state’s existing wildfire risk assessment mapping tool, based on risk to residential structures in the wildland-urban interface.

With the passage of HB 567 Fire Regulation Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, the Air Quality Division may no longer prohibit controlled burns as long as the burn occurs in an air quality attainment area between November and March and certain other conditions are met. This strengthens the “right to burn” in Utah, making it somewhat easier for prescribed burning to be used to help manage the risk of uncontrolled catastrophic wildfires.

SB 224 Energy Independence Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, allows utilities to create a fire fund, and to add a ratepayer surcharge to generate money for the fund, to be used to cover damages resulting from a fire found to be caused by the utility. The bill also lays out a process for making fire-related claims.

Miscellaneous other bills of note

HB 59 Federal Funds Contingency Planning, sponsored by Representative Ken Ivory and signed by Governor Cox, requires state agencies to develop contingency disclosures and plans for federal funding the agency pursues, including how the agency will proceed if federal funds are reduced or become unavailable. The bill also requires agencies to conduct a “state jurisdiction evaluation” analyzing whether accepting the federal funds or participating in the federal program would require the use of state funds or increase the state’s costs, or would “impair or impact the jurisdiction of the state” over federal areas in the state or the state’s ability to protect the “health, safety, welfare, and morals of the state.”

HB 230 State Agency Application Review Requirements would have imposed stricter time limits on state agencies for taking actions such as approving applications and permits, and provided greater protections to applicants. This bill is reminiscent of efforts at the federal level to impose deadlines on environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, among other attempts at permitting reform and streamlining. The House Government Operations Committee voted to take no action on the bill and it did not receive a vote on the House floor.

HB 243 Riparian Amendments would have directed the Department of Natural Resources to create a new staff position that would have been responsible for coordinating with other state agencies to undertake and support activities to manage and improve riparian areas (the land along lakes, rivers, and streams). This bill passed out of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and received a floor vote in the House, where it narrowly failed to pass (by a vote of 35–36 with four not voting).

HB 282 Utah Office of Regulatory Relief Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, adds to the duties of the existing Utah Office of Regulatory Relief a requirement to undertake a study of the laws and regulations of at least two industries per year (industries to be identified by the Unified Economic Opportunity Commission or the General Regulatory Sandbox Program Advisory Committee) to identify laws and regulations that inhibit the creation or success of new or existing companies or industries. (The office is still allowed to review any other laws or regulations in addition to these required reviews if it chooses.)

HB 516 State Land Purchase Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, prohibits entities that are owned or directly controlled by the governments of China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia from obtaining an interest in land in the state, and outlines a procedure for monitoring and enforcement. Similar bills have been considered in other Western states in recent years.

HB 519 Department of Natural Resources Modifications, signed by Governor Cox, makes a wide variety of minor changes to the Department of Natural Resources, including allowing the Division of Outdoor Recreation to set off-highway vehicle fees (rather than a set fee defined in statute) and to collect fees electronically, and removing authorization for the Utah Geological Survey to pursue federal grants or loans or participating in federal programs related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, or energy conservation, among other changes.

HB 520 Fallow Land Amendments, signed by Governor Cox, allows agricultural or urban farming land that is intentionally fallowed to continue to qualify for the agricultural use assessment for property tax purposes (a favorable assessment for the landowner compared to other uses) if the land is being fallowed for water conservation or other beneficial land stewardship reasons.

HB 534 Boards and Commissions Modifications, signed by Governor Cox, repeals a number of boards and commissions including the Air Quality Policy Advisory Board (also repealed by HB 373) and the Board of State Parks.

 

Featured image: Bears Ears National Monument, Bureau of Land Management