by Caroline Connolly
SALT LAKE CITY - Gov. Gary Herbert is hoping to clean up the state's air by changing the way some of us get around. He came out in support of a new bill Monday that calls on cities and schools to start steering away from oil by transitioning to natural gas.
Lawmakers crowded into a school bus to drive home the plan proposed in SB275, which would help create an Interlocal Agency that allows local governments to join forces to bond or borrow for natural gas fleet purchases.
"We're on the right road, we're going in the right direction,” said Herbert.
Transitioning vehicles to natural gas would also require that more natural gas pump stations be built around the state, which is an upfront cost bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, called worthwhile.
"58% of pollutants come from tailpipes,” Adams said. “So, the only way we're going to fix these inversions is to fix the tailpipes."
Adams used the school bus parked in front of the State House as an example of the benefits of natural gas. It belonged to the Jordan School District, which has already converted ¼ of its bus fleet.
"They paid $30,000 for the conversion. Well, they can pay that money back because they're paying $1.50 for gas."
Critics of the governor's air cleanup efforts argued the proposal was still not enough.
Founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, Cherise Udell, said, "This should be looked at as a short term solution, not a long term solution because ultimately we need to get off fossil fuels, period, for our vehicles."
Udell wants to see lawmakers set goals for reducing air pollution in the state, and then layout a plan to accomplish them.
However, Sen. Adams sees the bill as a long term effort to steer Utah away from oil.
"I'd like to see the entire school bus system in the state converted, I'd like to see UTA converted, I'd like to see each of the municipal fleets converted," said Adams.
The state is planning to replace more than 600 vehicles soon, and about 90 of those are slated to be converted to natural gas.