Utah Air Quality
and EVs

February 14, 2013

Mark D Larsen


The Nose Knows


The news media recently reported that last month the major metropolitan areas of Utah suffered the worst air quality in the nation. One hopes that this shameful distinction will finally serve as a wakeup call to our lawmakers. So far, however, they continue to sidestep the issue. The Senate committee’s proposal to fund “an Internet clearing house for research on air pollution” merely postpones, yet again, the inevitable. Numerous studies have already been done, the solutions are well known and attainable, and it is high time that our state officials took steps to implement them.

NBC reported that “vehicle emissions account for more than half of the trapped pollutants.” And Governor Herbert himself admitted in his State of the State address that this is true: “Fifty-two percent of the pollution during inversions comes from tailpipes.” The obvious solution, therefore, does not lie in efforts to ban “aerosol deodorants and hair spray,” but in cleaning up our local transportation. This is precisely what the U.S. government wanted to accomplish in 2008 by passing a $7,500 federal tax incentive to encourage the purchase of zero-emission electric vehicles. Numerous states have since followed suit. In fact, our next-door neighbor Colorado awards its residents an additional $6,000 state tax incentive. And in Utah? Our lawmakers allow a paltry $605 incentive to buy an EV, yet inexplicably a whopping $2,500 tax break for a natural gas vehicle.

Why? Is that discrepancy based upon verifiable data, or merely a blatant example of cronyism for the natural gas industry? Here is a table compiled from the EPA’s actual ratings for the various drivetrains available in a Honda Civic: MPG, fuel cost, total greenhouse gases (GHG) from both tailpipe and “upstream” emissions, and the specific smog scores for the state of Utah.


OFFICIAL EPA RATINGS MPG PER 100 MILES of DRIVING EPA
SMOG
SCORES

1 (worst) to 10 (best)
FUEL
COST
Tailpipe
lbs. GHG
Upstream
lbs. GHG
TOTAL
lbs. GHG
2012 Honda Civic Gasoline 32 $10.48 61.29 14.99 76.28 5
Bin 5
CHNXV01.8CB2

6
LEV-II ULEV
CHNXV01.8CB2

8
Bin 2
CHNXV01.8VC2

9
PZEV
CHNXV01.8VC2

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas 31 $6.84 50.04 26.01 76.06 8
Bin 2
CHNXV01.8BDT

9
PZEV
CHNXV01.8BDT

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid 44 $7.64 44.53 11.02 55.56 44.53


It is clear that, among the different drivetrains for a Honda Civic, the only real advantage of natural gas is that it costs less than gasoline at the pump. The GHG from natural gas is as high as from gasoline, and its smog scores are no better than those for the Civic Hybrid.

Yet none of those three drivetrains can compare with electric vehicles. The following table lists three EVs available for sale in Utah from Ford, Mitsubishi, and Nissan. Their GHG emissions are according to the EPA ratings for Utah zip codes. The results are indisputable. EVs have no tailpipe, their upstream emissions to produce the electricity still gives GHG totals that are less than half that of gasoline or natural gas equivalents, and their smog scores are a perfect 10. The old, worn out “long tailpipe” accusation against EVs by petrolpuppets is simply not true.


OFFICIAL EPA RATINGS MPGe PER 100 MILES of DRIVING EPA
SMOG
SCORES

1 (worst) to 10 (best)
FUEL
COST
Tailpipe
lbs. GHG
Upstream
lbs. GHG
TOTAL
lbs. GHG
2012 Ford Focus
Electric
105 $3.84 0 30.06 30.06 10
Bin 1
DFMXV00.0VAE

10
ZEV
DFMXV00.0VAE

2012 Mitsubishi
i-MiEV
112 $3.60 0 28.66 28.66 10
Bin 1
CMTXV00.0EWB

10
ZEV
CMTXV00.0EWB

2012 Nissan
LEAF
99 $4.08 0 33.07 33.07 10
Bin 1
CNSXV0000LLA

10
ZEV
CNSXV0000LLA


Moreover, the electrical grid will only become even cleaner in the future, as we transition from coal to more wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. Indeed, many EV owners already charge their vehicles with solar panels like mine, and thus produce no emissions whatsoever. And the icing on the cake is that, when it comes to the vast majority of our daily driving —to work, kids’ schools, the store, the gym, the mall, theaters and restaurants—, EVs are superior vehicles in every way. They are not only cleaner and cheaper to fuel, they are quieter, more responsive, more powerful, reliable, convenient, and downright fun to drive.

In summary, Utah legislators need to take a close look at the actual figures. If the state is going to encourage cleaner transportation to improve our air quality once and for all, they need to award the a tax incentive to electric vehicles that is equal to —if not higher than— that given to CNG vehicles.