Taking action to improve air quality

This article, originally published in @theu, January 7, 2020, was written by Nick Thiriot, communications director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has released a breakthrough report designed to inform Utah’s efforts to improve air quality and address a changing climate. The report, called “The Utah Roadmap,” was requested by the Utah Legislature and includes seven priority strategies to reduce air emissions in Utah. If followed, these strategies will protect Utahns’ health, encourage economic development (particularly in Utah’s growing tech sector), advance Utah’s Olympic bid and support Utah energy economies in transition.

“Utahns feel a sense of urgency to improve air quality,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “The strategies in this report build from the Utah Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution 7 in the 2018 General Legislative Session to recognize the dual benefit to Utah’s air shed and the climate as we reduce air emissions in Utah, all in a way that protects our health and strengthens our economy.”

“The Utah Roadmap” includes the findings of a six-month expert assessment involving input from representatives of Utah’s research universities; federal, state and local government; industry; health care; and the nonprofit sector.

Some major findings

  • Success stories: Utah is making significant progress in curtailing emissions. Of particular note is the conversion to Tier 3 fuels; investments in renewable natural gas, wind and solar; conversion to electric-hybrid buses; and investment statewide in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Air quality/climate link: There is a link between improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing auto dependency, improving energy efficiency, and advancing innovative energy solutions, Utah can address both challenges simultaneously.
  • Utah’s CO2 footprint: Utah’s per-person CO2 emissions, at 19.3 metric tons, are higher than the national average of 16.0 metric tons and are higher than Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California. Utah’s reliance occurs because of the state’s coal-fired power plants, which are all set to convert to natural gas, hydrogen or close within the study’s timeframe. Utah’s overall CO2 emissions are small on a national and global scale, representing 1.1% of the national footprint and 0.2% of the global footprint.

The institute selected seven priority actions for gubernatorial, legislative and individual action. At the top of the list is a recommendation that the state adopts—by resolution or statute—a goal to reduce criteria pollutant air emissions by 50% and CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

“These goals will inform our individual as well as collective actions,” said Tom Holst, senior energy analyst for the institute. “Much like a map provides direction, ‘The Utah Roadmap’ provides a guide to Utahns and state decision-makers as we travel along the path to cleaner air and responsible global citizenship.”

Taking action

“The Utah Roadmap” encourages the following actions, many of which are already underway:

  • Lead by example: State government to convert to an all-electric/compressed natural/renewable natural gas fleet where practical, adopt energy efficiency goals in state buildings and establish telework targets.
  • Create premier air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory: State government to establish and fund a premier state-level air quality/changing climate research solutions laboratory to improve the monitoring network, advance new technologies and convene entrepreneurs and experts to innovate.
  • Accelerate quality growth efforts: Utah to redouble quality growth efforts, including investment in transit, critical land preservation and the linking of economic development with transportation and housing decisions.
  • Position Utah as the market-based electric vehicle state: Utah to expand the state’s network of EV charging stations and incentivize EV/CNG/RNG use (particularly for older vehicles and large fleets).
  • Provide significant economic transition assistance to rural communities: The state to prioritize economic development assistance in energy-transition areas such as Carbon and Emery counties.
  • Participate in the national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions: The state to become a leader in national discussions about how to harness the power of market forces and new technologies to reduce carbon emissions in a way that protects health, sustains economic development and offers other benefits to Utahns.

These priority actions are accompanied in “The Utah Roadmap” by 55 other high-impact, low-cost options to reduce emissions.

In addition to convening technical experts in a collaborative process, the institute conducted roundtable discussions and focus groups with public interest groups, legislators, businesses and college students to garner feedback. Two focus groups were hosted in rural Utah (Richfield and Duchesne).

The current draft of “The Utah Roadmap” is publicly available through Jan. 27, 2020, at gardner.utah.edu/utahroadmap. A final version will be submitted to the Utah Legislature by the end of January 2020.

“The Gardner Institute was given a challenging assignment by the Utah Legislature to prepare a roadmap on this complex issue, in a short time frame, on an emotionally charged topic,” said Gochnour. “Utahns have a long and proud history of leading on challenging topics, whether it be refugee resettlement, immigration reform, anti-discrimination statutes, quality growth or religious freedom. ‘The Utah Roadmap’ presents another opportunity for Utah to lead.”

Technical Advisory Committee

Tom Adams, Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation
Scott Baird, Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Kip Billings, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Bryce Bird, Utah Division of Air Quality
Josh Brown, Rio Tinto
Andrea Brunelle, University of Utah’s Department of Geography
Thom Carter, UCAIR
Becky Close, Utah Division of Air Quality
Jon Cox, Rocky Mountain Power
Brett Crable, Dominion Energy
Josh Craft, Utah Clean Energy
Royal DeLegge, Salt Lake County
Jenny Esker, Rio Tinto
Robert Gillies, Utah State University
Andrew Gruber, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Thomas Holst, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Benjamin Horne, lntermountain Healthcare
Ben Huot, Utah Department of Transportation
Liza Kasavana, University of Utah Health’s College of Nursing
Kerry Kelly, University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering
Michelle Larsen, Utah Transit Authority
GJ LaBonty, Utah Transit Authority
Brian McInerney, National Weather Service
Shauna Mecham, Mountainland Association of Governments
Daniel Mendoza, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Pulmonary Division
Logan Mitchell, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences
James Owen, Rocky Mountain Power
Cheryl Pirozzi, University of Utah Health’s Pulmonary Division
Binod Pokharel, Utah State University
Tyler Poulson, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Michael Shea, Salt Lake County
Brian Shiozawa, University of Utah Health
Glade Sowards, Utah Division of Air Quality
Juliette Tennert, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brooke Tucker, Governor’s Office of Energy Development
Sarah Wright, Utah Clean Energy

Consultants and staff

Samantha Ball, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Kirsten Dodge, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.
Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Meredith King, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Siobhan Locke, The Langdon Group
Dianne Meppen, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Dianne Olson, The Langdon Group
Jennifer Robinson, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Paul Springer, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brian Wilkinson, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.

Media Contacts

Nicholas Thiriot | communications specialist, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

A bright idea?

This article, originally published in @theu on September 6, 2019, was written by Paul Gabrielsen,
science writer, University of Utah Communications.

For low-income families, paying the energy bill every month can be challenging, as energy bills can account for up to twice the percentage of income as for families with median income. Further, converting to an energy-efficient lifestyle can come with a steep up-front cost, adding another financial barrier to saving energy.

But a recent pilot study, a partnership between the University of Utah and Utah Clean Energy, showed how to break through these barriers to empower Salt Lake City residents with energy saving technologies.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that over an eight-month period an LED lightbulb exchange program in Salt Lake City’s west side exchanged 1,432 lightbulbs, reached 181 households and saved participating families a collective $18,219 per year in energy costs. It’s one of several initiatives to introduce efficient technologies in underserved Utah homes and include all income levels in community efforts to combat climate change.

“Through this project we believe that community members realized that efficiency is something that they can do. It’s something that has real benefits to them. And is has spurred interest in taking additional actions to cut energy waste,” says Kevin Emerson, director of the Energy Efficiency Program for Utah Clean Energy.

Why lighting?

The pilot study focused on LED lighting because of its accessibility. “Lighting was targeted because it was a simple action that can be taken,” says Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah. “It’s something that anybody can do because it’s such a simple act. It’s also something that’s accessible to both owners and renters.”

Using LED lightbulbs donated in part by Rocky Mountain Power, Utah Clean Energy set up 23 community events in two ZIP codes on Salt Lake City’s west side. At the events, members of the community exchanged up to 15 older lightbulbs for new 9-watt LED bulbs, and received information about additional low-cost energy-saving strategies. The researchers also sent participants a follow-up survey to see how many had reached out to other local energy-saving programs.

The lightbulbs, Emerson notes, emit a warm, yellow light at a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin, which is natural-looking and is less harsh than bluer lights. “We wanted participants to have a positive experience with energy-saving LED lighting so they would think well of energy efficiency and be more open to take additional energy-saving actions,” he said.

Because the pilot program involved an exchange of lightbulbs rather than just a giveaway, the researchers were able to calculate how much energy participants would save with the new bulbs. Assuming each LED bulb would last for 14 years, the project staff found that the exchanged lightbulbs would save, collectively, the energy equivalent of 19 homes every year. The energy-efficient bulbs also save 134 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, along with other air pollutants. Participants shaved, on average, $100 a year off of their energy bill.

“It does make a quantifiable impact in terms of CO2reductions from avoided electricity consumption, as well as the nontrivial amount of money they can save in terms of an electricity bill,” Mendoza says.

Taking action

The environmental benefits of the LED lightbulbs are well-established. Beyond that, the researchers hoped to learn more about how to influence Utahns’ behavior to engage with energy-saving practices.

The team extrapolated their pilot program results, which reached less than 1% of households in the target ZIP codes, to ask what might happen if an expanded program was able to reach more homes, up to 7.5%. Expanding to that scale would cost more, around $34,500 in the first year. But between the electricity savings and the social cost of carbon (a measure of the economic impacts of carbon emissions) such a program could save a combined $110,000 in that same year.

“It’s really a test case that can then be expanded to help facilitate additional energy efficiency actions being taken that wouldn’t otherwise be taken,” Emerson says. “And we see it as part of a larger transition toward a carbon free energy system.”

“We’ll be able to tell people what we can potentially deliver with additional resources,” Mendoza adds.

The follow-up survey asked participants if they’d taken any action to engage with five different energy-saving local programs. Responses varied, but 51% of participants said they had ordered or planned to order a Wattsmart kit from Rocky Mountain Power, 30% had set or planned to set appointments to seal their homes’ air leaks and 75% said they were more aware of how saving energy reduces pollution.

The pilot program was an overall success, the researchers report, and taught lessons about how to introduce sustainable practices at the community level, as well as additional steps Utah Clean Energy can take to make the program even more accessible to the diverse communities of Salt Lake’s west side.

Find the full study here.

Emerson suggests two ways to support Utah Clean Energy programs:

  1. Donate to Utah Clean Energy to support the cost of implementing energy efficiency community programs.
  2. Visit utahcleanenergy.org and learn about what actions you can take, regardless of where you live.

 

Does public transit reduce pollution?

This article, originally published September 6, 2019 in @theu, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications.

Public transit has long been an answer for people looking to leave their car at home and reduce their air pollution emissions. But now, with better rider tracking tools, the University of Utah and the Utah Transit Authority can better answer the question: How much does public transit reduce pollution emissions?

In a paper published in Environmental Research Communications, University of Utah researchers Daniel Mendoza, Martin Buchert and John Lin used tap-on tap-off rider data to quantify the emissions saved by buses and commuter rail lines, and also project how much additional emissions could be saved by upgrading the bus and rail fleet. The study was conducted in cooperation with the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality.

High-resolution rider data

Mendoza and his colleagues are certainly not the first to ask how much pollution public transit can save. But a couple of recent technological advances have enabled them to answer the question with a level of detail previously unparalleled.

The first is the advance of tap-on tap-off farecards that provide anonymized data on where those riders who have electronic passes enter and exit public transit. Approximately half of UTA’s passengers use an electronic fare medium. “Now we can truly quantify trips in both time and space,” Mendoza says. “We accounted for all of the 2016 passenger miles by scaling the farecard data, and we know which trips farecard holders make on buses, light rail and commuter rail.”

The second is the General Transit Feed Specification system. It’s the data source that supplies Google Maps with transit information to help users find the bus or train they need. With that data source, the researchers could track where and how often UTA’s buses and trains run.

So, with high-resolution data on the movement of both vehicles and passengers, the researchers could paint a nearly comprehensive picture of public transit along the Wasatch Front.

Balancing emissions

So, with that data, the researchers could quantify the emissions produced and miles traveled of the transit systems (TRAX light rail uses electricity produced outside the Wasatch Front, hence the emissions aren’t in Salt Lake’s air) and balance that with the miles traveled by passengers and the estimated amount of car travel avoided by riding transit.

On weekdays during rush hours, and in densely populated areas, the balance was clearly on the side of reduced emissions. “That tapers off significantly during the evening hours, on the outskirts of the city, and definitely during the weekends,” Mendoza says. In those situations, the number of passengers and how far they rode transit did not offset certain criteria pollutant emissions. (Criteria pollutants are six common air pollutants that the EPA sets standards for through the Clean Air Act.)

For transit to improve its regional reduction in emissions, particularly PM2.5 and NOx, the following strategies, alone or in combination, could be employed: more daily riders per trip, more clean-fuel buses and train cars and/or fewer low-ridership trips.

What-ifs

The current study looks at the bus and train fleet as they are now, with some UTA buses around 20 years old and FrontRunner trains whose engines are rated a Tier 0+ on a 0-4 scale of how clean a locomotive’s emissions are (Tier 4 is the cleanest; UTA is scheduled to receive funds programmed through the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to upgrade FrontRunner locomotives to Tier 2+). So, Mendoza and his colleagues envisioned the future.

“What if we upgrade all these buses, some of them from 1996 or so?” Mendoza says. “They emit a significantly larger amount than the newer buses, which are 2013 and newer.”

What if, they asked, UTA upgraded their buses to only 2010 models and newer, fueled by either natural gas or clean diesel? And what if the FrontRunner engines were upgraded to Tier 3?

Emissions of some pollutants would drop by 50%, and some by up to 75%, they found.

“Now, with this information, UTA can go to stakeholders and funding agencies and say, ‘Look, we’ve done this analysis,” Mendoza says. “This is how much less we can pollute.’”

Mendoza adds that taking transit offers additional benefits besides reducing air pollution. Taking transit gives riders time to read, work or listen while traveling. How does Mendoza know? He’s a dedicated transit rider. “I always get to where I need to go pretty much on time and completely unstressed,” he says. “I almost never drive.”

Find the full study here.

What inspires environmental action?

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019. The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 8, 2019.

There’s nothing like a crisis to motivate people to change their behaviors.

But when it comes to improving Utah’s air quality and slowing down climate change, action can be taken now to protect the state’s public health, economy and quality of life, according to a panel of University of Utah professors speaking on environmental change.

The panel was one of several presented at the symposium “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Air Quality.” The symposium took place Oct. 3, 2019, at the U.

Utah has serious air quality problems that “many people try to ignore on a day-to-day basis,” says Tabitha Benney, assistant professor of political science. She said behavioral studies show that a crisis can be “very useful in bringing about environmental change…. Do we want to get to that point? Hopefully, we won’t have to before we make decisions that help us in the long run.”

She is studying what would motivate Utahns to make changes to improve air quality by surveying almost 1,000 people across the state. The goal is to better understand perceptions and misperceptions about air quality, to explain behaviors Utahns take or don’t take to reduce air pollution, to motivate environmental actions and spur policy.

Benney has hypothesized that political orientation, socioeconomic background, religiosity and other factors affect Utahns’ environmental values and beliefs. Preliminary results show that roughly one-third of respondents believe air pollution in Utah isn’t caused by human behavior. And about half of the respondents were unsure if the government should implement policies to solve environmental problems.

While individual actions are important, government policy is seen as key to improving Utah’s air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the U’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is studying science-based solutions to both those problems at the request of the Utah Legislature.

Logan Mitchell, U research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and a member of the institute’s technical team, said the three drivers of air pollution emissions are electricity production, vehicles and buildings. The community should be focused on implementing policies in those three areas, including accelerating the transition to renewable energy and building homes and offices that run on electricity instead of natural gas, he said.

Mitchell said the advisory panel’s final recommendations are due Dec. 13. For individuals who want to take action, he said: “The most important thing as a citizen is to look at those things and let your legislator know you care … and that you’d like to see urgent action that will engender systemic change.”

Panelist Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonologist and assistant professor of internal medicine, said the health effects of air pollution would worsen as the temperature climbs due to an increase in wildfires and because warmer temperatures lead to more ground-level ozone. These effects should factor into the cost-benefit analysis of changing policies. She and other U researchers have found that during typical inversions, older adults are about 2.5 times more likely to have pneumonia and three times more likely to die in the hospital with pneumonia.

Still, it was the economic figure in her study that made an impact. The study estimated that reducing air pollution to healthy levels would save more than $800,000 in direct medical costs. The dollar amount “caught more attention than the health outcomes,” she said.

Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer) of economics, agreed that economics is a good motivator for spurring change. “The one incentive that really changes everybody’s behavior is large price differentials,” he said, adding that there needs to be a massive decrease in the cost of clean energy technologies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Selling the public—and the auto and petroleum sector—on the money to be made by moving to clean energy would be a good motivator, according to the panel. Benney said her survey has shown that Utahns, regardless of their age or political party, are more willing to take environmental action when they know one key element: the positive economic benefits of change.

Panelists: Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer), economics and director of the MIAGE Program, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Tabitha Benney, assistant professor, political science, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Mines and Earth Sciences; Cheryl Pirozzi, assistant professor (clinical), Division of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine.

Moderator: Brenda Bowen, associate professor, Department of Geology & Geophysics, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.