By Kristine Galloway
CHEYENNE – Efforts to reduce air pollution in Wyoming are continuing strong this year on the heels of multiple successes in 2020.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) worked with new and returning partners throughout the year to continue efforts to replace higher-emission diesel vehicles with new ones that are more friendly to the environment.
Brian Hall, WDEQ’s Outreach Program manager oversees the grant programs dedicated to reducing those emissions.
He said, “The voluntary efforts put forth by our grant recipients are essential to reducing air pollution from diesel emissions in Wyoming. We’re proud to help make that happen.”
Among the partners WDEQ worked with in 2020 are Campbell County School District, Western Wyoming Beverages and the Jackson Hole Airport.
Campbell County School District
Keith Chrans, transportation director for Campbell County School District 1, said the district’s emissions reduction efforts are mainly tied to two things: transition from diesel to propane school buses and reduction of the time buses spend idling.
Campbell County School District 1 began replacing their diesel buses with propane buses in 2016. But in more recent years Chrans began applying for School Bus Replacement Program grants through WDEQ.
That money comes partially from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) and partially from matching funds from the 2016 Volkswagen Settlement.
The school district pays for the new buses, and WDEQ reimburses 25% of the cost. Ultimately, the Wyoming Department of Education will reimburse the remaining 75% of the cost through the Wyoming School Foundation Program.
Chrans said he plans to replace all the district’s type C buses with propane buses. He explained that type C buses have the highest mileage because they’re used for the most rural routes.
“We have reduced our emissions by about 30% per bus. That’s almost like taking six diesel buses off the road,” Chrans said.
So far, Campbell County School District 1 has replaced 18 diesel buses with propane buses, nine of which were paid for through the grants. The district also used grant money to replace eight buses with clean diesel buses, which reduces the diesel emissions by about half for each bus.
Chrans said they began replacing diesel buses with propane buses because of the high cost to repair newer electric diesel buses but also felt it was important to run cleaner engines.
“We should be running fuels cleaner, whether it’s diesel or propane,” he said.
The change was successful in decreasing repair costs, too – by about 60%. Chrans said the older diesel buses cost about $10,000 each on average to repair. The propane buses are about $3,800.
“Even if we just replaced 50 buses, that’s $300,000 in savings,” Chrans said.
He said the propane buses are just as powerful as diesel buses and are cheaper to run. Chrans said they are saving around $1,200 – about 15% – per school bus on fuel each year.
Western Wyoming Beverages
Sean Valentine is the president of Western Wyoming Beverages, a beverage distributor in southwest Wyoming. His company used grants provided by WDEQ through the Volkswagen Settlement to replace two old diesel vehicles.
He said those old vehicles were “extremely inefficient and extremely terrible with emissions.”
The grant money from WDEQ paid for 25% of the cost to replace the vehicles, which came out to about $55,000, Valentine said.
He said they also assigned the new vehicles on the routes with the highest mileage to maximize the emissions reduction.
Valentine decided to apply for the grant because he needed to make some investments in his business, but he wanted to do that without affecting his employees’ jobs.
He explained that economic changes have affected his business making it difficult to make those investments without laying anyone off.
“By obtaining this grant, we help save employee jobs and help a Wyoming business continue to prosper,” he said.
Western Wyoming Beverages prioritizes the environment through more than just emissions reduction. Valentine said they also recycle all the plastic in which their pallets come wrapped. They send it to Trex decking company to be made into composite decking materials.
Western Wyoming Beverages also sees a lot of waste from products that expire or break, Valentine said. His company sends that waste to Parallel Products of Colorado. He said that organization turns liquid products into ethanol-based fuel.
“It costs money, but we’re doing the right thing by the environment,” Valentine said.
Jackson Hole Airport
Paul Walters, manager of environmental programs for the Jackson Hole Airport, said the airport board of directors and staff prioritize protecting the environment because they recognize that the environment is why people visit that region of Wyoming.
Efforts to improve the airport’s environmental footprint include carpooling for staff and purchasing vehicles with alternative fuel systems.
Walters explained that, with this in mind, they evaluated their fleet and discovered their older snowblower equipment was their primary source of controllable emissions.
So, they applied for a WDEQ grant through the Volkswagen Settlement. They also applied for funding through the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s (WYDOT) Wyoming Aviation Capital Improvement Program.
Dustin Havel, operations director for the airport, said they purchased a new industrial snowblower that reduces the airport’s emissions and can remove twice as much snow as the previous snowblower. He said it’s a 16,000-pound snowblower that can remove about 5.5 tons of snow an hour.
Walters said the new equipment resulted in about a 69% reduction in emissions from the old snowblower.
Information provided by the Jackson Hole Airport shows that the new industrial snowblower cost just over $867,000. The WYDOT grant paid for 75% of the cost, and the WDEQ grant covered 20%. The airport paid the remaining 5%.
Havel said they also purchased an attachment for a loader that allows the snowblower to be used year-round and increases efficiency at the airport, as well.
Between the increased efficiency and additional reductions in maintenance cost, the airport will see savings associated with the purchase, as well.