Members of the Utah County Clean Air Commission are resolved to rid the valley of a federally mandated special gasoline that they say costs service station owners money and doesn't do much to reduce pollution.
The commission formed a subcommittee Tuesday that intends to take its cause to Gov. Mike Leavitt, the Department of Environmental Quality and anyone else who will listen."I'd like to see if my governor thinks that is a fair and proper way to be doing things," said Paul Ashton, a commission member and owner of Stadium Chevron in Provo.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires Utah County gas stations to sell oxygenated fuel each winter from November to March as a means to combat carbon monoxide pollution. Gas injected with oxygen is intended to burn cleaner.
Local officials say studies show the so-called "oxyfuel" fails to do as billed and might even elevate levels of other more hazardous pollutants. They also wonder why Utah County is the only one in Utah compelled to use the wintertime gas.
Service station owners, especially those in the northern and southern ends of the valley, complain that motorists bypass their pumps during the winter to buy gas in Salt Lake or other adjoining counties.
"It just sucks the business out of Utah County," said Lee Patten, owner of Round Up Chevron in Lehi.
A Deseret News survey in December showed 24 percent of county residents typically buy their gas outside Utah County because of the oxyfuel rule.
Patten estimates his volume drops 60 percent during the oxygenated fuel season. He said he misses out on revenue from not only car and truck owners but from snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders who refuse to use the gas in their machines. The fuel gums up engines and reduces gas mileage as much as 20 percent, officials say.
"People down here just don't buy it. They're afraid of it," Patten said.
The higher price of oxyfuel also scares away drivers. The fuel costs 5 cents to 8 cents more per gallon in Utah Valley than Salt Lake Valley. Ashton said maybe the state ought to do something that forces oil refineries to balance gasoline prices between the two valleys in the winter.
K.C. Shaw, a Geneva Steel environmental engineer and clean air commissioner, said that although he's not a fan of oxyfuel, he doesn't think the commission should base its fight on economic issues.
"I don't think it's our responsibility to ensure economic parity," he said.
It would be better to argue that the program isn't working because motorists are avoiding filling their tanks in Utah County, he said.
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said the commission agrees that requiring oxyfuel in only one county is unfair. He suggested that maybe service station owners be granted a tax credit for having to sell the special gasoline.
Billings also suggested the commission should try to make its points with more than just the governor.
"I'd fight this on all fronts," he said. "I'd talk to the governor. I'd talk to the pope. I'd talk to everyone I could."
The commission did not set a date for the subcommittee to make its case before state officials.