The Jan. 6 Salt Lake Tribune editorial indicates that air pollution is still a serious problem and Gov. Gary Herbert has even proposed $100 million to help reduce the problem.

Small incremental steps such as replacing wood-burning stoves and requiring ultra-low NOX water heaters will help, but do not adequately address the major source of pollution from our cars. The current trend, nationally and in Utah, to buy gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs (75 percent in Utah), encouraged by relatively low gasoline prices and a barrage of advertising by the automotive industry, is moving us in the wrong direction.

The editorial did not mention what each individual can do.

We already have the automotive technology to seriously reduce our car emissions. This past August, our family bought the most efficient “plug-in” hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius Prime, which is rated at 133 mpg equivalent when driven in electric mode and 54 mpg combined in city/highway driving. We typically consume 8 gallons of gas for 1,000 miles of driving.

The car comes with an electric charger that plugs into a standard 120 AC outlet in our garage. Our home solar system provides a substantial portion of the electric energy required for charging the battery, thus reducing the need to burn fossil fuels for our travels.

The main problem with this purchase was that the car was not available in the Wasatch Front. Hundreds of various models were available in California with substantial discounts and a $1,500 incentive from the manufacturer. The one-way airfare to Los Angeles was $100, so the trip there was still a bargain. The Utah state government lost because we had to pay the sales tax of $2,562 to California.

Part of the reason for the low inventory of low-emission or zero-emission vehicles in Utah is that such cars are primarily allocated to California and nine other states that have adopted more stringent requirements for low-emission cars. Utah failed to join these 10 states by rejecting HB479 in 2018. Reintroduction of such a bill in Utah may be blocked by the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back federal fuel efficiency standards and any attempts by states to impose stricter standards.

This should not prevent Utah’s Legislature from reinstating a state tax credit (phased out in 2017) for purchase of new low-emissions vehicles. The federal tax credit for our vehicle of $4,500 — and up to $7,500 for many electric vehicles — is still available and is a significant incentive to purchase such.

To further increase demand for low-emissions vehicles and make the public aware that we have a role to play, advertising for cars will have to change. Private environmental and health groups as well as governmental agencies need to start advertising the multiple benefits of purchasing more efficient cars.

We are convinced that buying a PHEV or a ZEV is a win-win-win situation for everyone. Society wins by reduction of air pollution and the associated health effects. The family budget wins by the reduction of cost for transportation. Utah and the planet win due to reduced global warming and more snow and water availability.


Andrew Schoenberg, Ph.D., Millcreek, is a retired professor of bioengineering and rehabilitation medicine and a member of the Utah Citizens’ Counsel and the Utah Population and Environment Council. In his spare time he is researching and developing a vehicle that runs mostly on sun power.