Already in 2013, Utah has logged more than two-dozen red air days. With extended inversions trapping pollutants in our valley, Utahns have declared it is time to do something.
In addition to the adverse impact on public health, poor air quality endangers Utah's federal highway funding, increases the risk of greater regulatory burdens and impairs economic development and corporate recruitment efforts.
Overall emissions in Salt Lake City are not that different from other Western cities our size, but because of our unique geography and meteorology, pollutants can't escape into the atmosphere as they do elsewhere. We all play a part in polluting the air to some extent, and enhancing our air quality will require a collective effort — including some smart public policy.
We must encourage the behaviors that will protect the unsurpassed natural beauty of our state. We should drive less. We should drive cleaner. And businesses should continue to make clean air a priority. Clean air makes good business sense, and the business community is determined to be a significant part of the solution.
Overstock.com incentivizes employees to participate in a carpool program, providing as much as $80 per month and preferred parking spaces to carpoolers. It also encourages carpools by listing carpoolers on the company intranet by geographical location so employees can find groups close to where they live. Overstock.com is just one of many great examples of businesses making Utah's air quality a top priority.
Public policy should also continue to play an important role in preserving and enhancing our air quality. Over the past two decades, Utah has increased capacity on our interstate highways, greatly reducing congestion and keeping cars from idling on our freeways. Later this year, UTA will complete a multiyear effort to add 70 miles of rail over a seven-year period. These investments in our mobility infrastructure play a significant role in our clean air efforts.
There is still more we can do. We support Senate Bill 275, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams. This bill facilitates fleet conversions to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas (CNG) throughout the state, improves and increases CNG refueling infrastructure and provides critical maintenance facilities.
Today there are 2,757 school busses throughout the state: 2,659 run on diesel and 37 run on gasoline. Only 69 run on CNG. Considering each diesel school bus is the equivalent of 36 cars on the road, a determined effort to convert every bus — school buses and public transit buses — as well as heavy vehicles in the state fleet to CNG is a practical and pragmatic step that will greatly benefit our air quality.
Simple math makes this even more attractive. Today diesel fuel is $3.89 per gallon while CNG is $1.49 per gallon equivalent. Bus fleets that run on CNG will not only pollute less, they'll cost less. Making CNG more readily available to the public also makes it sensible and financially rewarding for more of us to drive CNG-fueled vehicles.
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Increasing the availability of CNG fueling stations is a win-win-win for Utah. Our state has an abundant supply of natural gas. Using more of it to fuel our vehicles and commerce reduces our dependence on foreign oil, improves our air quality and makes our state an even more attractive location for businesses and top talent looking for a place to do business.
Jonathan Johnson is the chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Clean Air Task Force and acting CEO of Overstock.com. Jeff Edwards is the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.