Gov. Gary Herbert’s new budget not only proposes spending $100 million to improve air quality, it also trumpets a call for a consumer gasoline revolt.
It contains what are essentially repeated ads for Speedway and Chevron because they — and other brands not specifically mentioned in budget documents — now offer lower-pollution Tier 3 gas. Herbert urges consumers to buy it to prod other refineries to also produce the cleaner fuel.
“Utahns can now make a choice to improve air quality simply by choosing where they purchase fuel,” the budget says, noting that three of Utah’s five refineries now produce it or soon will (plus two in neighboring Wyoming that also pipe in significant supplies to Utah).
“As more consumers demand lower emission fuels through their fuel choices, the Utah market should respond to consumer demand,” the budget adds. It repeats the message in several spots.
Tier 3 fuel can reduce pollution by 80% in new Tier 3 cars, compared to older-formula gas in older cars. Herbert often says that is like taking four of every five cars off the road, and he pushed in 2017 for tax breaks for refineries that speed conversion to Tier 3. The fuel also reduces pollution when used in older cars.
Refineries that now or soon will produce Tier 3 fuel — Marathon, Chevron and Silver Eagle in Utah, and Sinclair in Wyoming — are applauding the governor’s push.
The two refineries who do not yet sell Tier 3 fuel — Holly Frontier and Big West — say they are working toward that, even without the extra push by the governor.
“We care about the environment and air quality in the community. I breathe the same air as anyone else,” said Scott White, Holly Frontier vice president and refinery manager.
He said his refinery produces low-sulfur gasoline, although not low enough yet to qualify for Tier 3 status. “We are actively pursuing opportunities to achieve the Tier 3 fuel sulfur levels here at the gas refinery.”
Despite the governor’s pressure directed at his refinery, White still praised Herbert.
“We very much support the governor’s diligent efforts and frankly, his accomplishments in addressing the important issue of air quality here in Utah,” White said. “Through his efforts there, there have been great reductions in emissions and improvements in air quality.”
Holly Frontier distributes mainly to independent gas stations statewide, and White said it sells to anyone who wants to buy.
Mike Swanson, president of the refinery division of Big West Oil said, “As a small, locally owned refinery, Big West Oil has determined that it will spend tremendous resources over the next several years on refinery modifications to produce 10 ppm sulfur fuel,” or Tier 3 gas.
He adds in an email, “In the meantime we will continue to sell our already very low sulfur fuel, in compliance with federal Tier III standards and regulations. We are grateful to the governor and the Legislature for their help and support in this significant undertaking.”
The refineries that do produce Tier 3 — where Herbert is trying to direct consumers — really sing his praise.
“We appreciate the governor’s tremendous leadership in helping bring about change to address the state’s air quality challenges,” said Chevron spokeswoman Kristina Brown. “Gov. Herbert has demonstrated that we all have a role to play in improving Utah’s air quality.”
Brad Shafer, spokesman for Marathon, the parent company of Speedway, said getting Tier 3 on the market “has been the highest priority for the governor for a long time. It would make a big impact on mobile emissions if everyone would use it.”
The companies indicated they may take advantage of the governor’s push by promoting their Tier 3 product in ads or in other ways soon. Chevron, for example, recently launched a website about its Tier 3 gas in Utah at www.chevron.com/utah-tier3.
Herbert’s budget repeatedly praises Speedway and Chevron stations by name for offering Tier 3. But other retailers also offer it, or soon will.
Chevron says its product is also offered at Texaco stations in Utah.
Marathon offers Tier 3 at its Speedway stations and at Exxon and Shell. “We also wholesale to Smiths, Maverik and Costco — but they are buying from other refineries, too. So someone buying at, say, Costco can’t automatically assume they are receiving Tier 3,” Shafer said.
Silver Eagle officials say they sell to independent stations statewide — including also selling to Maverik, Costco and Smiths. Mike Platz, director of operations at its Woods Cross refinery, also said that most stations that buy from it also buy from other refiners — so it may be tough for consumers to be sure where Tier 3 is available. Still, “We want to be part of the solution. Using Tier 3 gas in a Tier 3 car improves air quality."
Sinclair spokesman Adam Seuss said two of its Wyoming refineries pipe gasoline to Utah. One in Casper now produces Tier 3, and another in Sinclair, Wyo., is expected to produce it by the end of the month. The gas goes to Sinclair branded stations in Utah, including many operated by Holiday Oil.
Seuss warns, however, that as those Tier 3 fuels are combined in pipelines or at terminal tanks with older products, the gas reaching consumers may not be true Tier 3 for a time.
Sinclair also applauded the governor’s efforts. “There are demonstrable benefits to air quality by the use of Tier 3 fuel. So to that extent, we certainly agree with the governor. The valley benefits. Air quality benefits, and I think it’s the right move for consumers,” Seuss said.
The new budget and its call for a consumer uprising is not the first time that Herbert essentially turned into a salesman for a gasoline company. He also did that at a news conference in November, when Speedway announced it was about to become the first in Utah to offer Tier 3.
“Look for a Speedway near you,” the governor said half-jokingly into TV cameras. “You can get a hot dog…. Finish it off with a Krispy Kreme doughnut and a drink — and fill up with Tier 3 fuels. You’ll be happy, and your automobile will be happy. And your neighbors will be happy because we know we’re going to have cleaner air.”
The governor’s budget also proposes $100 million in state spending for clean air, plus more for related transportation improvements. Among his proposals are:
• Shifting $34 million from the general fund that had been earmarked for highways to mass transit and suggesting that such moves become permanent. It is designed to increase ridership by expanding service and making it more frequent. It would require free passes for state workers, and more transit stops near state facilities including a new Taylorsville office building.
• $66 million to expand a network to recharge electric cars.
• $34 million to double-track the FrontRunner rail system to increase frequency and make it a more convenient commuter option.
• Remove limits on the number of “transit-oriented developments,” designed to increase ridership, that the Utah Transit Authority may participate in. Limits had remained, in part, because of scandals including several sweetheart deals for developers.
• Calling for employers to increase teleworking options, to help reduce congestion and pollution.