Clean fleets

Program works to reduce local air pollution through alternative fuels

Reno bus driver Michael Burge has driven one of RTC’s colorful electric buses for three years.

Reno bus driver Michael Burge has driven one of RTC’s colorful electric buses for three years.

PHOTO/Kelsey Fitzgerald

For more information on the Clean Cities program, visit
For more information about the Reno-Tahoe Clean Cities coalition, contact UNR's Business Environmental Program:

The Biggest Little City keeps getting bigger, and with more vehicles on the streets, air pollution is likely to increase. For nearly a year, Chris Lynch and Tabitha Aspling of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Business Environmental Program have been working to organize local vehicle fleet managers and other interested stakeholders into what they hope will be a solution to some of this pollution—a Clean Cities coalition for the Reno-Tahoe region.

Clean Cities, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a nationwide initiative aimed at reducing petroleum use in transportation. As part of the program, coordinators in cities across the U.S. build networks of people committed to sharing information and resources on alternative fuels. If Lynch and Aspling are successful in their endeavor, the Reno-Tahoe region will be recognized as one of almost 100 other Clean Cities located around the U.S.—an important step in creating a local commitment to keeping our air clean.

So far, Lynch and Aspling have assembled a team of 42 local stakeholders, many of whom manage vehicle fleets (groups of vehicles owned by a business, government agency or other organization). Many fleets include vehicles that are on the road all day, every day, like taxis, buses or garbage trucks. Cumulatively, these vehicles can produce a lot of pollution.

To support the Clean Cities effort, Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division has provided grant funding. Lynch and Aspling are now developing a program plan, where they will set goals for how many gallons of petroleum-based fuels they hope to displace. They also plan to hold stakeholder meetings and educational “lunch-and-learn” events throughout the year, where they will share information on alternative fuels with interested stakeholders.

“There’s been a lot of technology development in the last decade, and there are lots of new opportunities,” Lynch said. “I think that’s one of the key things about something like Clean Cities. It creates a platform for getting out information and getting fleet managers talking to each other, and sharing problems and solutions.”

Ozone, in particular, is in the spotlight right now. Ground-level ozone is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from vehicle emissions come into contact with sunlight, and is considered harmful to human health.

On Oct. 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed a new ozone standard, lowering the accepted level of ozone in the air we breathe from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb. According to the most recent data from the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division, Reno’s ozone level for the 2013-2015 period was 71 ppb, meaning that we will have to reduce our ozone levels to meet the new standard.

“Clean Cities can help accelerate the retirement of older, dirtier engines, and replace them with newer, cleaner engines,” said Daniel Inouye, branch chief for the Washoe County Air Quality Management Division.

Many of the stakeholders in the Clean Cities coalition are already using alternative forms of fuel, says Lynch, and he looks forward to getting more on board. Waste Management, for example, is using compressed natural gas in their trucks. The Regional Transport Commission has four electric buses, and more on the way. The Washoe County School District is using propane as an alternative to diesel fuel.