OPINION: Petroleum alternatives key for emergency response

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"160602-G-ZZ999-850" by U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Wisconsin residents know all too well you need to keep the snow brush in the trunk, even if you’re wearing shorts and flip flops.

The ever-changing weather is just a reality we’ve all come to expect and we make sure we’re always prepared. Another reality is the threat of severe weather at any time and in any season. Sadly, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events.

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In Wisconsin, we know all too well the devastation that can come from floods, tornadoes and blizzards, whether it is to our homes or businesses. All of these can cause disruptions to petroleum supplies, whether natural disasters occur in Wisconsin or along the supply chain.

Access to fuel in times of crisis is of particular concern for our emergency responders who need to reach residents, transport those needing critical care, assist with evacuations, close roadways, transport key supplies and equipment and respond to downed power lines and fires.

Being prepared to address these issues before they happen is referred to as energy resilience or the ability to anticipate, prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to and recover rapidly from disruptions through planning and technical solutions. Sustainable transportation fuels, vehicles and equipment play a key role in energy resilience.

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Atlantic City, New Jersey had a fleet of 190 buses fueled by compressed natural gas that were used to evacuate residents. While the petroleum supply chain was severely compromised and costs rose dramatically, the CNG supply remained uninterrupted and costs remained steady.

The City of New Richmond, Wisconsin assisted during Hurricane Sandy as well, sending a hybrid-electric utility bucket truck to assist with cleanup. The vehicles operate on battery power when stationary and allow crews to fix power lines, eliminating engine idling and saving fuel.

Adopting fuels, vehicles and equipment that reduce the dependence on petroleum help in a number of other ways outside of times of crisis as well, including reducing harmful emissions, improving air quality, supporting the U.S. economy and jobs. They also help reduce the impacts of climate change, including the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Wisconsin Clean Cities is working at the local level to ensure our emergency responders have the vehicles, fuel and equipment needed to respond at any time without the fear of a petroleum supply disruption hindering their ability to do so.

Wisconsin Clean Cities in 2020 began the two-year Statewide Assistance for Energy Resiliency and Reliability (SAFER2) grant program, assisting the Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation in developing a comprehensive statewide effort to improve energy emergency plans at the local level. As part of the program, Wisconsin Clean Cities provides in-depth fleet assessments, education and outreach to counties and tribal organizations.

Anyone interested in learning more about how get involved is encouraged to contact our organization at info@wicleancities.org.

We may still need to keep a snow brush in the trunk when we’re wearing our flip flops, but at least we’ll know when disaster strikes, our emergency responders will be even more prepared to answer the call.

This column originally appeared in The Chippewa Herald & other Lee Enterprises newspapers across Wisconsin. Lorrie Lisek is executive director of Wisconsin Clean Cities and president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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