Mono County wants to shrink its carbon footprint, especially when it comes to air quality, but given economic uncertainties these days, it only follows that the County would rather not use any of its uncommitted reserves to do it.
During the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 17 meeting in Mammoth, the lawmakers took up an item about submitting a grant application for some of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District’s (GBUAPCD) “Clean Air” $5 million funding pool. The money was part of a court dust and particulate matter mitigation judgment against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power involving diverting too much water out of the Owens Valley lakebed.
With a Feb. 15 deadline to apply, the County decided to narrow its focus to three priority items in order to try and stay relevant in what is likely to be a competitive race for funding. Mono County Analyst Wendy Sugimura walked the Board through several of the top-ranked items, as assembled by staff, for consideration.
One item the Board seemed to key on was related to vehicle emission standards requirements. The County is committed to replace several outdated and non-efficient engines by 2020. According to County Director of Roads, Jeff Walters, an estimate of the cost is about $108,000 to replace nine diesel engines, not including filters, which he added would make sense if it’s a recent vehicle, but not if it’s an older one.
Propane burning reductions were brought up, since some sources burn dirtier than others, such as older boilers, but it was determined that would require more examination of County buildings to identify the most egregious offenders.
One topic that received lots of traction, particularly with Supervisor Larry Johnston: natural gas conversions of much of the County’s fleet of vehicles. Natural gas runs about $1.80/gallon less than gasoline, currently selling for $2 – $2.50/gallon, which would be about one-third of what the County pays for gasoline. According Johnston’s research, there is some reduction in power versus diesel (about 10%), but its higher octane tends to make up for any power loss in lighter duty vehicles.
The question: is there enough critical mass in the Eastern Sierra to justify creating compressed natural gas filling stations. An inventory of fleets has been conducted, including those of the County, Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, Waste Management, and Inyo County’s motor pool. Walters said the County is only waiting on figures from Mammoth Unified School District, City of Bishop and Mammoth Disposal.
Just with those who have responded so far, about 1 million gallons of usage have been accounted for, including 400,000 gallons of diesel and 600,000 gallons of gasoline.
Those figures look impressive on the surface, but as Walters pointed out they could pale in comparison to larger metropolitan areas with massive vehicle fleets. He also added that those areas typically use pipeline-driven supply chains, whereas Mono and Inyo counties would need to transport the compressed natural gas (in liquid form) up here, essentially adding to the air quality footprint the plan would be seeking to reduce. Boron is the closest processing and delivery operation that could facilitate supplying the area.
According to Johnston, Inyo County called it a no-brainer, but wanted the entire $5 million from the funding pool to make the conversion, which Johnston said wasn’t realistic. A more sensible plan, he suggested, would be to shoot for $1 million for Mono County and $1.5 million for Inyo County to make conversions.
Sugimura said the California Clean Cities committee is reviewing the collected data and will render its decision to the counties shortly. The federal government is anxious to facilitate such conversions, which could weigh in Inyo’s and Mono’s favor. “I don’t know if our fleet is standardized enough or not to make this type of conversion, but I do agree it’s worth looking into,” noted Supervisor Vikki Bauer.
Another small project that Sugimura suggested has a good chance of getting approved is a $100,000 Road Shop exhaust upgrade, in part due to employee health and safety concerns that would be addressed.
“One thing’s for certain, it’s going to be very competitive. Everyone’s got a hand out,” Supervisor Tim Hansen observed. “But part of the lawsuit against LADWP involved Mono Lake, so [the County has] every right to ask for some of the money, too. We just have to focus on clean air, and what affects the air the most.”
The GBUAPCD is, he posited, focusing on air quality in both the Owens Valley and to a lesser extent the Mono Basin, though in seems Valley projects will be addressed first.
IMACA, the Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action, for example, has already been granted about $500,000 to replace wood stoves in the Owens Valley.
The Board opted to prioritize diesel engine replacement and the road shop exhaust projects, and left it up to County staff to add an assortment of other lesser priorities to the application mix, time and resources permitting.
In addition to the GBUAPCD application, also in the works is possible pursuit of a $70,000 block grant from the GBUAPCD for various County air quality improvement projects.