Lawmaker launches website to help Utahns find where to buy lower-polluting Tier 3 gasoline

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tops off the tank of his state-issued SUV at the opening of a new Speedway convenience store and gas station that will sell lower-sulfur “Tier 3” gasoline, in Salt Lake City on Nov. 25, 2019. Officials launched a new website, tier3gas.org, to help drivers find where Tier 3 is available.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, says constituents tell her a top concern is Utah’s air pollution, an assessment backed up by public opinion polls. She says their eyes always light up when they hear that new Tier 3 gasoline can reduce pollution from cars by up to 80% — which is like taking four of every five cars off the road.

“Then naturally their questions come to: ‘OK, I’m sold, I want to do this. Where do I buy it?'” she said. “In researching this, I found it’s really difficult to find out.”

So she and her husband developed and launched a website Thursday to show where the lower-polluting gasoline is available in Utah, tier3gas.org.

“Right now it’s just me and my husband,” said Harrison, a physician. “But we are enlisting the help of other folks, advocates and nonprofits.” And many of those groups joined her at a Capitol news conference to praise the new website and encourage Utahns to buy Tier 3 gas.

(Lee Davidson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, on the left, stands with advocates and others to promote her new website, tier3gas.org, to show where Utahns may buy Tier 3 gasoline during a news conference on Jan. 23, 2020.

It comes after Republican Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this month in his budget also called for essentially a consumer gasoline revolt, urging Utahns to buy only Tier 3 gasoline to prod refineries that do not yet produce it to do so soon.

Three of Utah’s five refineries now produce Tier 3 gasoline: Marathon, Chevron and Silver Eagle. It is sold at stations including Speedway, Chevron, Shell, Texaco and Exxon.

Only those stations are currently shown on Harrison’s website — but she says it will add others when they certify they are selling only Tier 3 gasoline.

For example, Sinclair Oil has said that by the end of the month, it will pipe Tier 3 gasoline to Utah from two Wyoming refineries — but it cannot guarantee for a time that the final retail product will be Tier 3 because of possible mixing in pipelines and terminal tanks.

Also, many independent stations — including such large chains as Maverik, Costco and Smiths — buy from the refineries that produce Tier 3. But they also buy from the two Utah refineries that have yet to offer it: Holly Frontier and Big West.

Harrison said independents and others will be added to the website when they certify they are buying only Tier 3 gas and allow periodic inspections to verify it.

Of note, officials from Holly Frontier and Big West said earlier this month they are pursuing opportunities to produce Tier 3, and say they are still producing low-sulfur gasoline here — but not yet at the 10 parts per million level of Tier 3.

A variety of clean air advocates and state officials joined Harrison to push for drivers to use just Tier 3 gas to reduce pollution.

“Tier 3 fuel is a great opportunity for people to eliminate waste in a simple way,” said Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.

Ari Bruening, president and CEO of Envision Utah, said its research consistently shows “that one of the things Utahns care most about is air quality. In fact, over the last 10 years or so, it’s been the one thing Utahns say they like least about living in Utah.”

He said that when Tier 3 was proposed years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the seven counties nationally that would benefit the most are all in Utah.

“But there was a problem. The rule only required the refineries to hit the new low sulfur standard on average across the country, which meant there was a real risk that Utah would never see cleaner gas,” he said. So the governor and others asked refineries to produce it for the state and the Legislature offered tax incentives, and three refineries now offer it.

Cars built after 2017 have Tier 3 engines. When they use Tier 3 gas, their emissions are up to 80% lower than earlier cars using older-formula fuel. But even older cars burn cleaner when they use Tier 3.

“Just putting Tier 3 fuel in your existing car can reduce your emissions by as much as 14%,” Breuning said. “That’s pretty much equivalent to parking your car one day every week.”

Ben Abbott, a professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, said air pollution “is a public health crisis and it also is a moral crisis because this is a problem that we can avoid and solve. So globally, 14 million people die every year from air pollution.”

In Utah, he said, “Air pollution kills more people than smoking. It kills many more people than all car accidents,” and contributes to deaths from such things as heart attacks, strokes, suicide, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Abbott added, “It’s not the sole cause, but the dirtier the air you breathe, the more likely it is that you’ll suffer from those conditions.”