National Bus Tour Aims to Keep Mo Udall’s Spirit Alive

Posted June 6, 2007 at 4:43pm

Thirteen students, one bus, 8,606 miles and a mission: to promote public service and environmental sustainability.

That’s the theme of the Morris K. Udall Foundation’s Udall Legacy Bus Tour, which will kick off Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Over the span of two months, the biodiesel-powered bus will chauffeur scholars to more than 25 cities across the country to participate in various public service projects and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the foundation’s education programs.

“I think there is a tremendous need for our young people to turn back to public service as my generation did,” said the foundation’s chairman, Terry Bracy.

Bracy, who started working for the late Democratic Representative from Arizona in the 1960s, said he saw the bus not just as a showcase of new technology, but also as a vehicle to transport the spirit of “Mo” Udall across the country. That spirit encompasses many of his ideals, such as promoting environmentalism, advocating for American Indian rights and engaging in public service.

During the trip, students will stop in cities from coast to coast to lend a hand in various public improvement endeavors — many run by former Udall scholars — such as cleaning up soil in New Orleans polluted by Hurricane Katrina and teaching young students about nature in the country’s national parks through the use of photography.

The bus, powered by a 20/80 blend of biodiesel and petroleum coupled with an engine designed to use ultra-low sulfur fuels, is the first-ever motor coach in the nation certified as “green” by the University of Vermont’s Green Coach Certification program (the university is one of the program’s sponsors).

Made from a plethora of organic materials such as soybeans and waste cooking oil, biodiesel is championed by proponents as way to lower global-warming-causing greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources (which are, of course, two of the most commonly paired phrases as of late).

Ellen Wheeler, the organization’s chief operating officer, said the foundation chose the 20/80 blend (of which a majority is still old-fashioned, crude-oil-derived diesel) because of its compatibility with today’s diesel engines as well as its overall availability. To help mitigate some of the rest of the emissions, the tour company operating the bus will purchase carbon offsets. Emission tracking information, analyzed at the tailpipe, also will be posted online so the public can track the tour’s sustainability.

Organizers hope the vehicle will help increase awareness of environmental problems facing the world and the measures being taken to mediate them.

“It seems like all you hear is bad news about the environment,” Wheeler said. “But we think there is a lot of good work going around.”

Some of these “good work” sites, such as the Bronx River in New York, will be visited by the students themselves.

“[The river] has now been cleaned,” Wheeler noted, “and now they have native species and even beaver in there for the first time in many years.”

Bracy, the jovial 64-year-old organization chairman, sees this as part of a new wave of environmentalism being spread around the country and said he believed it was part of a new generation of engaged youth.

“In the cycles of American politics, there is a need for generational change,” he said, noting later, “I just feel a sense of change in the air, and it’s generational, I don’t think it is ideological.”

Turning to the nation’s youth, he added, also was something Udall espoused.

“Mo always would say: ‘Kick down the doors and let the young people in and they will figure out what to do,’” Bracy said.

The foundation was created by Congress in 1992, shortly after Morris Udall left the House of Representatives after more than 30 years of service. It is entrusted with continuing the legacy of the Congressman, who died in 1998. One of the best known of the organization’s activities is its scholarship program, which awards up to $5,000 to 80 students interested in environmental issues or to American Indian students committed to tribal governance and native health care. The organization also hosts a Native American Congressional Internship and assists various agencies and organizations in environmental conflict mediation.

Bracy, who has been chairman since the foundation’s inception, said the group has kept a fairly low profile over the years, but he felt that might be changing with this tour.

“We are probably entering a new era,” he said about the organization’s expected notoriety increase. “This is a mature institution.”

More about the bus tour can be found at udall10.udall.gov.