OPINION: Summer heat, a reminder of need for fuel, energy conservation

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Image of wetlands with wild flowers and blue sky above
"St. Croix Wetland Management District Spring Meadows WPA prairie" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Whether you look to Memorial Day, the summer solstice or the end of the school year as your official start of summer, the weather is clearly indicating the season is underway.

Many of us are as eager as ever to get outdoors and get a little fresh air. The beginning of summer also means the start of air quality action season and with it, the need to take into consideration how we all consume fuel and energy to ensure the air is as clean as possible.

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issues Air Quality Advisories during the air quality action season from May to October when weather forecasts predict conditions that will lead to unhealthy levels of air pollutants for sensitive populations. These include children, the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions. At times, the conditions are such that even healthy populations are at risk.

When advisories are issued, individuals, as well as public and private sector entities, are encouraged to take steps to reduce fuel and energy consumption to help with air quality. The issue is of particular concern to the more than 512,000 Wisconsin residents – one in 11 adults and one in 12 children — living with asthma, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Reducing transportation-related emissions is an important part of the solution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation-related emissions account for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions nationwide and generate the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, more so than industry or electrical generation.

As of January 2021, Wisconsin had nine counties designated as nonattainment or maintenance for National Ambient Air Quality Standards, including Door, Douglas, Kenosha, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan and Waukesha.

The good news is, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, more than 95% of Wisconsinites live in areas that are meeting all national air quality standards and research shows pollutants are declining substantially thanks in large part to the implementation of federal and state programs and an increase in the adoption of cleaner fuels, vehicles and technologies.

We at Wisconsin Clean Cities take pride in being a part of those improvements. Increasing the use of clean, affordable domestic transportation fuels, energy-efficient mobility systems and other fuel-saving technologies and practices is at the heart of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program’s mission. In 2019 alone, our members and partners reduced the equivalent of 38.1 million gallons of gasoline. That’s the greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent of removing more than 73,600 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

Wisconsin’s state programs are helping substantially as well. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in March released a study highlighting the impact of the state’s clean diesel grant programs. The report indicates the grants have helped with the deployment of more than 5,200 pieces of equipment and will reduce more than 54 million gallons of diesel fuel.

The program is also cost-effective. The $20 million investment in state and federal funds was matched by $21.9 million from grant recipients and will result in more than $284 million in health cost savings, according to the March report.

In the meantime, let’s take action not only during air quality action season but every day to conserve fuel and energy usage for cleaner, healthier seasons year-round.

This column first appeared in Kenosha News & 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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