Tuesday, May 26, 2015

National Energy Foundation: Fostering Student Debate on Utah’s Air Quality

By: Janet Hatch, Guest Blogger


DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Imagine a distinguished group of external panelists assembled at the Utah State Capitol. Their purpose is to take energy questions from an audience comprised of government and community experts. Little did they know that two fifth grade girls would emerge from the crowd and surprise everyone with a complex question and follow-up inquiries! 

Since 1991, the Utah Debate program has inspired students in grades four through nine to develop a deep understanding of issues related to Utah’s energy and water resources and the environmental landscape. During the current school year, Utah school administrators, the National Energy Foundation, and UCAIR collaborated to engage students in the study of Utah’s air quality.

An informational conference introduced the year’s debate-resolution topic. Study culminated in the spring with regional and state debate meets. Most importantly, it produced students with the ability to communicate complex aspects of Utah’s air quality as well as the research and critical-thinking skills to produce solutions for the future.

Caleb Maxfield, a State Debate winner from Eastwood 
Elementary School, debated the cons
of mass transit use to improve air quality.
The potential for students to positively impact our air quality doesn’t stop there. 

During the school year, Utah educators participated in the Road to Clean Air Workshops sponsored by the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development for the Wasatch Front series, and by Utah State University, Washakie Renewable Energy, and Utah Clean Cities for the Cache Valley Educator Workshop. These teachers took lesson binders and supply kits back to the classroom to provide hands-on, STEM-based learning to an estimated 7,252 students.

The Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development also sponsored a Road to Clean Air Video Contest and contributed to the development of the Alternative Fuels Poster, which they provided to 2,000 Utah classrooms.

Like the fifth graders at the Capitol, Utah students will continue to share their understanding of Utah’s air quality, amazing even the adults around them. It may cause a little embarrassment when a kid gives the reminder to turn off the engine, turn down the thermostat, or carpool, but we appreciate and value the help.

Learn more about the National Energy Foundation’s Utah Debate program by visiting our website. While you’re there, check out the elementary and middle school debate videos as well as the conference presentations that helped prepare students for this year’s air quality debates.

I am the Director of Programs and Curriculum for the National Energy Foundation, a Utah-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. I have been privileged to work with these and other educational programs that cultivate and promote an energy-literate society. I have an education degree from the University of Utah and am married with two teenagers.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Bike Share: A Carefree & Clutterless Way to Go

By: Chamonix Larsen, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in our community.

Salt Lake City GREENbike station.
Photo credit:www.greenbikeslc.org
Six-hundred-twenty square feet, two people, one dog, a decent view, and a very specific place for everything else. That was my life for five years, living downtown in a small loft. I have moved on to a (slightly) bigger place, added another dog and two kids (need: second bathroom). I know honing some organizational skills has paid off when I look at my sons’ Lego collection (organized by part, and if I had a few more hours, by color as well). There is something quite wonderful about having things right where you need them, when you need them... and nothing more to worry about.

Now you know my secret, I am an organizational obsessive. I constantly look for things to organize and get rid of. If it is dusty, we probably aren’t using it, and it should go. (Watch out dusty dog). The garage, I had to be told, is off limits, and is where my tinkering husband keeps his stash. I still wander in there just to take inventory, and then, in my passive-aggressive-Utah-mom way, tell him we should get rid of it all anyway. It is a constant itch.

This may seem as if it has nothing to do with air quality or bike month, but for me, there is a very direct connection. Aside from holding my husband’s stash of tools and sports equipment, our garage is also home to winter tires, oil, cleaner, old bikes, new bikes, bike pumps, bike tubes, basically a bunch of byproducts of our need to get from A-to-B. I don’t really want all this stuff. I just want to get around and enjoy the ride.

Tada! GREENbike (aka bikes I DO NOT store in my garage) seemed to come down from the sun god of organization, and I am beginning to partake. You can imagine my excitement about all the possible decluttering from this bike share program. But decluttering isn’t the only benefit to a bike share. I won’t have to lug a bike through the transit system; the bike is now part of the system. I can be lazy about it and it still works. I also won’t have to pay the meter, circle the block, or wonder what the heck I did with that stupid validation ticket.

And I won’t have to start an engine. No, I won’t have to start the engine. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted when your engine is cold and you start the car comprise the majority of the total VOC trip emissions. Avoiding the start altogether is a big deal, and a big solution to our air quality problem.

Aggie Blue bikes waiting for student checkout.
Photo credit:www.usu.edu/abb

Luckily bike share is not exclusive to the Salt Lake downtown area. There are other communities with bike share in Utah. Look no further than Utah State Aggie Blue Bikes. The Logan-based school’s bike share makes it so when my son heads off to the grand higher education experience, he can get around on a bike that I don’t have to see in my garage all summer while he’s an intern at NASA (I think I have reasonable expectations, after all he’s only 5). Any student on campus can check out the bike for months at a time, and use it wherever he or she wants to go. USU has installed bike repair stations, helps students fix and replace tubes, and helps them vet the success of a relationship with a small fleet of reservable tandems. It seems like a pretty good compatibility test: a little team work, a balancing act, and a lot of fun. Not to mention gearing up the next generation of college grads entering the workforce for a clean-air lifestyle.

So if it is Aggie Blue, GREENbike green, or whatever color that dusty old one is in my garage, getting on a bike this May is a great way to travel emission-free. Ride to get a few groceries, ride to avoid parking at the next Michael Franti concert (because there’s always one coming up), and ride to clean up the air.

You can find more information on GREENbike or Aggie Blue by visiting their websites. Tell us about your experience with bike share.

Chamonix Larsen was appointed the State of Utah Resource Stewardship Coordinator in Fall 2014. Her role is to help state entities share best practices that improve the State’s positive impact on resources, with a specific focus on practices that affect the air shed in Utah.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DEQ: Confessions of a Bunch of Bike-a-holics

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

UCAIR Executive Director Ted Wilson
shows off his new eBike
I once cycled for the fun of it, having participated — in Cycle Oregon II and III, a 400-some-mile trek through scenic Oregon. Peddling from town to town for six to eight hours a day at various elevations was a physical challenge, but was a great way to explore every corner of my home state. You didn’t have to think, you just peddled. Nor did you have to haul your tent, sleeping bags, or food. The weeklong ride featured beautiful campsites, plentiful food, hot showers, live entertainment, and a fully supported route. So when you got a flat, no worries. The roadside mobile fix-it station was at your service.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is made up of a bunch of bike-a-holics — a mix of commuters and lunch-crowd excursionists — who either use their bicycle for transportation, exercise, or to catch a breath of fresh air. DEQ has 70 bike lockers, and plenty of riders that include:

  • Executive Director Amanda Smith occasionally rides either her town bike or Moots road bike to work. But mostly she enjoys exploring Utah’s backcountry on her mountain bike.
  • Air Quality Deputy Director Brock LeBaron joins a group of DEQ cyclers for an afternoon spin on his specialized Tarmac Pro that he keeps in his office.
  • Environmental Scientist Tom Daniels commutes 70 miles daily to and from his home in Ogden on his Ibis Silk Carbon.
  • Communications Specialist Christine Osborne takes an afternoon break by getting on her Orbea road bike and riding the Jordan River Parkway.
  • Air Quality Scientist Rik Ombach rides his Specialized mountain bike via FrontRunner to the office.

And Ted Wilson, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), likes to commute on his eBike.

Thanks to DEQ’s Green Team and support from Amanda Smith, DEQ’s campus now has a Bike Fix-It Station to accommodate two-wheelers in need of repair. Located at the southeast corner of the Multi State Agency Office Building under the building overhang, the repair stop features a high-pressure pump with capability of pumping both types of valve stems, a bike stand where you can suspend your bike in the air and use the attached tools to fix a flat or any other necessary adjustments. If you have a smartphone, you can scan the QR code on the bike station and watch videos on repairs such as removing a wheel, repairing a flat, or adjusting the gears on the rear derailleur. You can also check out the tips at dero.com/bikerepair.

Unlike Cycle Oregon, we can’t come to you, but you can come to us.

In honor of National Air Quality Month and Utah Bike Month, DEQ will celebrate our new bike repair station on May 19, 2015 with a ride-to-work day and a ceremony with invited guests. Look for more details on social media: Twitter (@UtahDEQ, @deqdonna) and Facebook.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ in search of a new ride since the old road bike I used as a participant of Cycle Oregon in the late 1980s is collecting dust in the garage. I welcome any thoughts and suggestions.