High on everybody's list of "5,000 things to do to save the world" should be converting vehicles that use dirty fuels so that they burn less-polluting material.

Sen. Stephen Rees, R-Bennion, is the sponsor of a measure, SB36, that would do just that.It would give sales tax breaks to those who convert to using alternate, less-polluting fuel.

Examples of these are fireplace equipment to allow burning of natural gas or propane; new vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, propane or electricity; equipment to convert existing vehicles to the new fuels; pellet-burning stoves; and stoves approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as acceptable in emissions.

"I really have strong feelings that Congress has not addressed long-range energy policies," Rees said in a prepared statement. "We need this not only for Environmental protection but for our own economic security."

The gulf war points up some of the hazards, both to national security and to the global environment, of depending slavishly on the Middle East's oil reserves.

Saddam Hussein's terrorism with deliberate sabotage of the Persian Gulf ecosystem, while it pales in light of the overwhelming toll in human lives that is taking place, is still the biggest environmental disaster yet.

Estimates range all the way up to 60 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. It's hard to imagine the scope of the Exxon mess, and to multiply that many times over defies my imagination.

"There is much more to the environment of the Middle East than simply barren sand and rocks," said Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth, based in Washington, D.C.

The Persian Gulf's fishery supports shrimp, tuna, snapper, sardines and sea bass, important not just to local communities but a valuable food source internationally.

"The Tigris and Euphrates rivers run through the center of Iraq and enter the Persian Gulf through a great system of marshes."

According to Blackwelder, in 1983, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi jet fighters attacked Iran's Nowruz oil facility, destroying two drilling platforms and starting fires that burned for more than a year.

"About 5,000 barrels of oil a day poured into the Persian Gulf for more than six months, causing massive destruction of marine life, decimating the sea turtle population and exterminating the sea cow population," he said.

Large desalination plants on the gulf, which supply millions of gallons of fresh water per day, had to be shut down and fenced off from the floating oil.

"Because Iraq has mined Kuwait's oil facilities, the oil spillage resulting from a war today could dwarf the 1983 spill," he wrote, shortly before Saddam's actual sabotage, which did dwarf any previous oil spill.

"Further, the rapid evaporation of the volatile components of the oil will leave behind a tarry mass which could sink and virtually cover the bottom with an asphaltlike pavement. The result of the war could be a dead sea."

Any bill that helps wean America from an overdependence on oil, nuclear power and coal is a welcome addition. It could reduce environmental threats to the world itself.

This bill is worth a try anyway, if for no more cosmic reason than to improve our own air quality.

"Since Jan. 1, 1991, Salt Lake County has violated the 24-hour PM10 (smallest particulate) standard four times," Rees said. "Salt Lake recorded its highest exceed-ences ever on Jan. 2 and 3."

Major contributors to both PM10 and ozone pollution are auto emissions from gasoline and diesel fuels, he added. "Natural gas burns cleanly and emits extremely low levels of hydrocarbons, a component of ozone."

Rees pointed out that Mountain Fuel Supply has more than 250 fleet vehicles fueled by natural gas. By the end of this year, the Utah Transit Authority will power five buses solely by natural gas.

"Currently, 29 fleets along the Wasatch Front are also fueled by natural gas," he said. "People who have driven these cars report no difference in overall performance."

A tentative salute to the Senate, assuming SB36 does pass; and here's hoping the Utah House also authorizes Rees' farsighted bill.