OPINION: Help make air quality gains a lasting legacy

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Photo by Benjamin Lehman

There’s been a lot of good news lately about air quality in Indiana and the region.

Air quality improvements are always something to cheer about. However, for the reports to come at a time when we need all the good news we can get makes it all the more exciting.

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We know air pollution is dropping dramatically across the globe as a direct result of the stay-at-home orders by reducing on-road traffic, including in Indiana. Jeffrey Dukes, director of Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center, told WLFI in West LaFayette that traffic was down by 40% from the beginning of the shutdown to mid-April and that air quality improved by 38% during the same timeframe. That is great news.

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What may be even more exciting are the results of a three-year look-back at air quality monitoring in Lake and Porter counties. On April 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that three years of air monitoring data show Lake and Porter counties are meeting 2008 federal air quality standards, and the counties may be redesignated due to achieving the 2008 U.S. Clean Air Act standards for ozone.  

This is great news and speaks to the hard work of fleets in the public and private sectors to reduce their emissions and that of individual consumers and industries over decades to change habits and mindsets for a healthier tomorrow.

The news comes right at the start of the Air Quality Action Day season, which runs from May 1 to Sept. 30. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issues Air Quality Action Day alerts during the season when ground level ozone and particulate matter are predicted to reach unhealthy levels.

On Air Quality Action Days, individuals, businesses and governmental entities are asked to take steps to reduce their impact on air pollution. We would have never reached the point where Lake and Porter counties may be able to be redesignated if not for individuals and fleets making smarter, more environmentally sound choices outside of just Air Quality Action Season.

South Shore Clean Cities members and partners have done just that. In the last decade alone, our members have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 607,000 tons and reduced the number of gasoline gallon equivalents by 93 million gallons. That is equivalent to removing 175,500 passenger vehicles from the road for one year and eliminating the use of nearly 2 million barrels of oil.

Our members do not plan to roll back their efforts with the news of improved air quality and neither should you. Continued vigilance is the only way to ensure the gains will be long lasting. As we have seen by the changes in air quality while fewer people are on the roads during the shutdown, individual driver actions do matter and can make a big difference, for better or for worse.

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You will soon start seeing billboards in the region we helped develop with our partners at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission for the Air Quality Action Season. The campaign brings back the “It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air” message and is aimed at helping people take simple actions to improve air quality. You will also be introduced to the character “Region Man” and his neighbors and friends who are making decisions for the better.

It is great to celebrate good news about air quality, but it will be even better if we can continue to do so for years to come. Your actions today can help influence that outcome.

Remember, it is never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

This column first appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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