Suzanne Harrison: What Tier 3 fuels can mean for Utah’s air quality

(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.

As a mom and a practicing physician, the quality of our air affects my personal and professional life. Like many, I am deeply concerned about the health of my patients, children and future generations of Utahns. For this reason, I’ve been heartened to see the recent availability of Tier 3 gasoline.

Tier 3 refers to a program crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the heavy toll cars take on our air. It combines vehicle emissions standards for new cars (phase-in beginning in 2017, with full compliance by 2025) and sets low sulfur standards for gasoline. Together, these technologies will greatly reduce tailpipe pollution. While all new vehicles will be cleaner as a result of Tier 3, the same can’t be said about all gas.

There are many ways fuel refineries can comply with the Tier 3 regulations — not all of which require selling cleaner gas in Utah. That’s why, three years ago, Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature sought to localize the benefits of the new rules through certain tax exemptions for refineries that decided to produce Tier 3 gas locally.

So far, three of the state’s five refineries have opted to produce Tier 3 gas locally to distribute in Utah.

Tier 3 gas creates less of the harmful pollution which causes our yellow and red air days. When used with fully Tier 3 vehicles, key pollutants will be reduced by up to 80%. It will be like taking four out of five cars off the road. When used with older vehicles, the emissions reduction is smaller, but shouldn’t be overlooked, especially because more than 40% of particulate pollution along the Wasatch Front comes from vehicles.

Reducing harmful pollutants translates to significant improvement to public health and the economy. In recent years, research has shown that poor air quality is associated with more miscarriages, poorer student performance, less efficient work time, and more hospitalizations and premature deaths.

Tier 3 gas, however, gives us a tool to do something about it.

Buying Tier 3 gas is an easy way of making a difference in Utah’s air quality. With cleaner gas now available for purchase at many locations, individual consumers are empowered to make informed decisions that reflect our state’s values and protect public health through individual choice and market forces.

Although we still have work to do to reduce CO2 emissions from our vehicles, this is something we can do to reduce air pollution. Because some local refineries have stepped up to produce Tier 3 gas, you have a choice as a consumer. You can choose to give your business to those companies that are committed to improving Utah’s air.

As mentioned before, not all gas is Tier 3 gas. You likely won’t see anything at the pump that will tell you, either. It will come out of the same pumps you’re used to and will be competitively priced — some stations will sell only Tier 3 gas, while others may not have it at all.

To find out which gas stations are committed to selling Tier 3 gas, however, we’ve created a resource that you can find at Tier3Gas.org. Use it. Share it. Get the word out.

There should be little doubt that cleaning Utah’s air will require a number of solutions. But using Tier 3 gas when you need to drive is one way that you will make a difference.

In a sense, it really is the least we can do.

Suzanne Harrison

Suzanne Harrison, M.D., D-Draper, represents District 32 in the Utah House of Representatives.