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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Drivers waiting in the Park and Wait lot at the Salt Lake International Airport on Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, are discouraged from leaving their engines idling.

SALT LAKE CITY — Although recent storms have cleared out some of Utah's typical January inversion, the concern about poor air quality still lingers and at least one woman is calling on drivers, including those in law enforcement, to cool their engines.

But officers on-duty say it's not that simple.

"The cameras have to be going, the computers have to be on, the radio has to be on. That's our office and we need some of our vehicles to be on at all times," said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. David Moreno.

In a letter to the editor of Logan's Herald Journal, Rachel Jaggi noted that she witnessed various UHP vehicles idling — in one instance, up to two hours while parked at a restaurant — raising the concern that troopers might not be aware of the poor air quality in Cache County.

"This behavior is incredibly irresponsible and just plain ridiculous," she wrote. "There is no reasonable excuse for this unnecessary pollution and waste of our tax dollars."

Moreno said the complaint is unfortunate and troopers have been reminded of UHP's policy — to turn off cars left unattended for 15 minutes or more.

"We're supposed to be the example and set the example," he said. "Especially when it is so bad out here with the air quality, so our troopers know that." Moreno noted, however, that vehicles transporting police dogs are required to be running at all times.

Idling has become a hot topic for many organizations, including the state's Department of Environmental Quality, which is backing Idle Free Utah, encouraging drivers to turn off their vehicles if they plan on waiting in the vehicle for extended periods of time.

However, Kelly Eberhard, a vehicle technician and manager of the Kearns Emissions Plus location, says starting a vehicle with a cold engine almost always puts out more exhaust than running a vehicle consistently.

"Keeping it running is a better option," he said, adding that an already warmed up catalytic converter burns fuel more efficiently than a cooler one.

Idling for 10 seconds uses about the same amount of gasoline as restarting a car, according to a recent energy efficiencies report, and depending on the size of the vehicle's engine, idling can burn up to 2 percent of the total amount of fuel used in a year.

Drivers typically start their cars between five and 10 times each day, while idling accounts for about 13 percent to 23 percent of a vehicle's total operating time, according to the report.

Intersections are largely to blame for vehicle idling, lasting about three minutes at a time and resulting in 80 percent of all idling. Advocates for cleaner air say proper maintenance can cut down on the more than 600 pounds of pollution each car emits into the atmosphere every year.

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Salt Lake City has implemented a no-idling ordinance for city employees, including a requirement to shut down engines left running for more than 10 seconds. The hope is to reduce the city's carbon footprint. Other cities impose fines on idlers.

It is all for the bigger cause of cleaner, healthier air.

Checking tire pressure, as well as frequent lube and oil changes and getting regular tune-ups also affects the amount of pollution that a vehicle emits, Eberhard said.

Older vehicles, he said, are worse on the air, as far as pollution goes. But during the days of "moderate" or worse air quality, idling engines, as Jaggi noted, are downright frustrating.

Contributing: Jennifer Stagg

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com