In the late 1990s, Kansas City was so environmentally backward that it had trouble grasping the concept of recycling. But Sam Swearngin, the city's fleet superintendent, was revving up efforts that would make the metro a national leader in alternative-fuel use. In 1996, Swearngin convinced city administrators to shell out for two Ford Crown Victorias that ran on compressed natural gas — the cleanest-burning fuel out there, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, more than 200 city vehicles run on natural gas, and 900 more fill up with a blend of biodiesel, a fuel made from soy. Swearngin's fuel advocacy has earned plenty of accolades. Only two other cities in the country use more green fuels than Kansas City, and the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute awarded the metro its 2007 Oxygen Award for continuing to lap its municipal competition. To get to work, Swearngin catches the MAX bus near his home in Brookside and then rides his bike the rest of the way to the fleet center.