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The Senate passed Friday one of the year's first clean-air bills, which would require that at least 50 percent of passenger cars purchased by state government be high-efficiency or alternative-fuel vehicles.

"The state should set an example," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, sponsor of SB99. The Senate passed it 27-1 and sent it to the House.

Jenkins said the bill would require the state to buy more vehicles fueled by natural gas or electricity, hybrids or those than can operate on low-sulfur,"Tier 3" gasoline.

"It just allows us to become better stewards, better citizens," he added.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said, "It has a tremendous opportunity to make a huge difference for the air."

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, agreed, saying "it will save fuel costs and it will help air quality."

Jenkins said converted natural-gas-powered trucks that he uses in his own plumbing-supply business quickly save enough in fuel costs to pay for their higher price tag. For example, he said, one truck recently was driven to Sun Valley, Idaho, using natural gas for $22. It cost $77 to return using gasoline.

Jenkins said because of such factors, state motor-pool officials figure they could make the change within their existing budgets.

"I hope that businesses and individuals will follow the state's lead and also convert 50 percent of their new purchases to high-efficiency vehicles," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "So many people have criticized me and other legislators for not doing enough, and this is exactly the type of action that we need to take."

Legislative leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert have said improving air quality is a top priority this year, coming as inversions often lead to the worst air quality in the nation.