The inversion is not caused by one single smoke stack spewing out pollution, and even the Wasatch Front’s largest polluters account for only a percentage of the total amount of garbage we breathe in during smoggy winter months. In many ways, the inversion is a death by a thousand cuts that require many varied and unique solutions to solve the complex problem.
The Utah State office of Education’s Transportation Task Force has identified one wound that could start to heal: The state’s aging bus fleet. Seeing an opportunity with an expanded budget this legislative session, education officials approached Representative Steve Handy (Republican – Layton) with a proposal: give us $20 million to replace 175 of the worst polluters, provide us with modern facilities that will allow us to purchase cleaner vehicles going forward, and allow us to get a match from the federal government for these programs. HB 41 – Clean School Buses and Infrastructure from Handy was the result.
“[The bill] is both a dramatic and symbolic statement that we’re willing to clean the air,” Handy told Utah Political Capitol. “$13 million would go to replacing buses (The average cost of a new natural gas bus is $145,000) …School districts would have to come up with a 50% match from their funds to replace [these] buses [and] the other $7 million is for building infrastructure: [natural gas] and propane filling stations on a 50/50 match.”
Recently, Governor Herbert announced that he intended to direct $14 million to the purpose of retrofitting buses and building infrastructure. “$20 million is what the task force identified [as necessary]. I don’t know why the governor hedged and went with $14 million,” said Handy.
Children are the most vulnerable to the pollutants emitted by the older diesel engines found in the state’s fleet and, in 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted new standards for diesel fuel and engines. The improvements the EPA have put into place are dramatic: buses made after 2007 are up to 95 percent cleaner than older models. Natural gas, which is mostly the simple molecule methane, burns much cleaner than traditional fossil fuels such as diesel. Diesel, however, is more fuel efficient and studies have suggested that more of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, would be emitted by a natural gas fleet than a diesel fleet. The burning of diesel, however, does produce more of the fine particulates that comprise our annual inversion.
With a decent sized price tag, it is unclear if lawmakers will get on board with the legislation. In previous sessions, despite the thick inversion blanketing the capitol city during the legislative session, lawmakers have been slow to approve spending bills designed to improve air quality.
To contact Representative Handy, click here or call 801-979-8711.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker