Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Gas vehicles can play role in reducing emissions


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Implausible as it may seem, gasoline powered vehicles can be part of reducing carbon emissions. They need to be part of the solution and not brushed aside.

Take, for example, Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. There is a fleet of 33 tour buses powered by gasoline engines.  Each year, they transport 60,000 visitors, mainly across Logan Pass—the park’s famed Going to the Sun Highway.

Without them, congestion would be much worse and fewer people would enjoy Glacier. The Logan Pass highway is narrow and hangs off the cliffs of high rugged mountains.  It is a recipe for a nightmarish traffic snarl.

Like most national parks, Glacier is popular.  People love its serenity, solitude, and beauty.  It is the Swiss Alps of North America, yet its attractiveness creates problems for its hiking trails and roads. 

Even though it is opened mainly between Memorial and Labor days, 2.35 million visitors cause traffic jams.  In 2020, the National Park Service reported 28 closures of the Going to the Sun Road because of plugged up roads. Idling vehicles spew massive amounts of CO2.  The U.S. Dept of Energy estimates vehicles in stop-and-go traffic spew 30 million tons of carbon pollution each year.

To manage traffic, Glacier officials initiated a ticketed entry system two years ago. It seems to be working.   Without it, park service officials believed they would have closed the West Gate, the most popular entry, 35 times last summer.

Glacier has a long history of busing.  In the late 1930s, NPS officials purchased buses from White Motor Co. It was part of a larger buy of classy looking Model 706 touring coaches for western national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Mt. Rainier.

The buses carry 17 passengers and are known with their rollback canvas tops.  They are painted the red color of ripe mountain ash berries found in Glacier.

Over the years, only Glacier maintained its fleet and was able to rebuild and upgrade them 20 years ago thanks to a $6 million Ford Motor Co. grant.   Other national parks sold the buses, and outside of Glacier, only 3 remain in Yellowstone.

Today, passengers park their cars outside Glacier.  More than 30,000 to 40,000 cars are parked outside the park each year. It is a case where internal-combustion engines operating on gasoline reduce overall CO2 emissions.  

Keeping bus service in our national parks has a downside as well.  Francesco Orsi, geography profession at Kansas State University, told the Guardian that cars may be a big source of air pollution, but they also limit the number of people wearing out trails.  Trail usage presents a whole other set of problems.

The big issue is that cars occupy space on land that would otherwise remain wild.  They leave visual scars, Orsi argues.

Today, any discussion of mixing gas, diesel, natural gas, or propane in a carbon reduction plan is taboo.  However, it is essential now when less than 1% of the 250 million vehicles in our country are electric. 

Eventually, electric vehicles will increase but between now and then, millions will visit our national parks.  The challenge is to find funding for ways to convert to electrics and to deal with the increased visitations without destroying the very character visitors want to see and enjoy.  

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and retired as president of the Associ-ation of Washington Business. He now lives in Vancouver, Washington, and can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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