The fuel contains 20 percent biodiesel, a cleaner-burning gas that releases less sulfur dioxide into the air, reducing pollution. At this point, any regular diesel bus, van or truck can use the biodiesel without having to be retrofitted.
Cherokee officials met last week to announce the opening of the biodiesel filling station and the launch of a biodiesel shuttle between Cherokee and Gatlinburg (see related article below). The van was painted with an outdoors mural of Cherokees walking through a forest path. Also painted on the vehicle are masks symbolizing the seven traditional clans of the Cherokee tribe.
“We wanted to make a unique type of vehicle,” said Kathy Littlejohn, transit manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The new van was paid for with $170,000 from a federal air quality initiative which also covers the cost of the driver’s salary, a ticket office, fuel, advertising brochures promoting the new shuttle service, and operating expenses. The new biodiesel pump in Cherokee costs approximately $85,000, which included nearly equal contributions from an Environmental Protection Agency grant, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the N.C. State Energy office and the Cherokee Boys Club.
The biodiesel pump will be used by tribal employees and is not a public pump, but Littlejohn said she hopes to see area private gas stations adding on biodiesel in the future.
The biodiesel will be supplied by distributors in Asheville and Spartanburg, S.C., as well as the Smoky Mountain Biofuels refinery opening soon in Dillsboro.
The average vehicle entering the national park has 2.9 passengers, according to Littlejohn, so co-friendly reasoning maintains that a shuttle service run on biodiesel could reduce the number of vehicles in the nation’s most heavily visited park while also reducing the hazy pollution that shrouds mountain vistas.
The plan is to have all tribal vehicles including sanitation and maintenance trucks and the public transit vehicles to run on biodiesel. In addition, the Cherokee Boys Club, which maintains a fleet of 110 school buses and charter buses, will also be using the biodiesel pump. With a similar gas price when compared to diesel, the biodiesel makes sense as an alternative fuel that lessens American dependence on foreign oil, according to Ray Kinsland of the Cherokee Boys Club.
“It’ll help the environment; it’ll help the economy,” Kinsland said.
The new biofuel station is just one of many environmental initiatives spearheaded by the EBCI.
Earlier this year on April 24, the Cherokee Tribal Council passed a proclamation called the Qualla Environmental Resources Initiative. In this document, the Tribe pledges to develop, implement and enforce high standards to protect national resources and area wildlife; collaborate with local and regional environmental protection agencies; maintain hunting and fishing programs while enforcing strict regulations and fines against poaching or over-harvesting; enhance and revitalize greenways; reduce energy consumption through lighting and heating/cooling changes; initiate alternative energy resources; monitor the quality of air, water, and species; create and preserve food plots for native animals; and establish laws limiting or prohibiting development on selected lands that contain valuable natural or cultural tribal resources.