Gov. Gary Herbert stepped up for cleaner air and out of his comfort zone when he issued an executive order to limit engine idling in state cars and trucks. Everyone in the state who breathes should thank him for it.
An anti-idling policy is just good sense, but it requires people to change their behavior, and that means it will rub some folks the wrong way. Nevertheless, it's the right thing to do, and it's an example of one of the many small changes in daily life that are necessary for Utahns to cut air pollution. Filthy air is a major health issue, not only along the Wasatch Front but in Cache County and the Uinta Basin, to name a couple of other prominent examples.
Emissions from cars and trucks account for roughly 40 percent of air pollution in Utah. Turning off the engine when a car or truck not in traffic is not moving for 30 seconds or more should be a no-brainer, because an idling engine spews the byproducts of burning fuel into the air without producing much work. An idling engine doesn't help you get anywhere, so there's not much point in running it.
Will a cut in idling make a huge difference in total air pollution? Probably not. But it will make some difference, and millions of small differences add up.
Take the state's fleet of 7,300 vehicles as an example. They drive 78 million miles a year. Numbers-crunchers estimate that the new no-idling policy will save 60,000 gallons of fuel annually.
Despite all that, the Legislature took a run at killing Salt Lake City's anti-idling law during this year's session. Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, sponsored a bill that would have prohibited governments from enacting such laws. Harper's bill eventually was amended to require that anti-idling laws be primarily educational and enforced like parking tickets, and only then after a violator has received three warnings. They can only be enforced on private properties with drive-through service if the businesses post signs alerting motorists to the time limit for idling in the local law.
That wasn't a bad outcome, because, really, such policies are all about education and changing public awareness. But it shows how even something as benign as a law that prevents pointless car idling that creates unnecessary pollution can have an uphill climb in this state. In that light, the governor's new policy shows positive leadership.
This doesn't change the fact that his broader energy policy still places far too much emphasis on development of fossil fuels and nuclear power. But progress is progress, and we give the governor points for taking the lead on engine idling.