OPINION: Do your part to make Earth Day every day

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There are certain annual observances we really need to work harder to acknowledge more than once a year.

One of them is Earth Day. Each year, individuals and organizations plan events on April 22 focused on taking proactive environmental action. Drive Clean Indiana, our members and our partners live Earth Day every day with our focus on promoting sustainable transportation and clean energy options across Indiana.

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Earth Day also serves as the unofficial kickoff to the Air Quality Action season. Air Quality Action Days are days during which ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM 2.5) are predicted to reach unhealthy levels.

The Air Quality Action Season runs from May 1 to Sept. 30 for ozone, while PM 2.5 action days can occur at any time. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, with their counterparts in Illinois, forecasts weather conditions when ozone and PM 2.5 concentrations are expected to reach unhealthy levels and issues alerts encouraging efforts to reduce their creation.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) partners with Drive Clean Indiana to help increase awareness and action to combat these harmful emissions in the region year-round. Two programs supported by NIRPC and Drive Clean Indiana aimed specifically at the Air Quality Action Season are Northwest Indiana Partners for Clean Air and the Region Man campaign.

Partners for Clean Air, which is managed by IDEM, is a coalition of Northwest Indiana businesses, industries, local governments and community groups committed to improving overall air quality and public health through voluntary actions. Members of the Partners for Clean Air Program develop Air Quality Action Plans designed to be implemented on Air Quality Action Days as a way of reducing harmful air pollutants.

The Region Man campaign was the brainchild of a group of Purdue University environmental engineering students in 2018 with support from NIRPC and guidance from Drive Clean Indiana. The billboard campaign, which runs from May through September, features the fictional characters Region Man, Region Woman and Region Teen who encourages Region residents to follow their lead in taking action to reduce emissions on Air Quality Action Days in their own homes and activities. A corresponding Facebook page supports the campaign as well.

The Indiana Green Fleet Program is another program supported by the partnership between NIRPC and Drive Clean Indiana. The goal of the program is to significantly improve the environmental performance of business and government vehicle fleets by helping them adopt the best clean fuel and technology vehicles to meet the unique needs of their fleet. The program involves a fleet assessment and emissions quantification with recommendations for the best options for fuels, technologies and vehicles for the fleet.

The information gathered for the fleet assessment in large part mirrors that of what is required for grant applications for vehicles and equipment as well as fueling and charging infrastructure, making the organizations participating in the Green Fleet program more prepared when funding opportunities arise.

Drive Clean Indiana has assisted many of our Green Fleet members in successful grant applications that are making a difference in the Region. Earlier this month, the City of Hobart unveiled four new compressed natural gas refuse trucks purchased with the help of grant funds facilitated by Drive Clean Indiana. The Crown Point Community School Corporation’s new electric school bus – the first in the region – is another example of a grant-funded project that originated with the Green Fleet program.

Our weekly radio show – “Green Fleet Radio” on Lakeshore Public Radio – and even this monthly column are also examples of the NIRPC/Drive Clean Indiana partnership at work to promote awareness of our efforts in the Region.

Drive Clean Indiana and our partners work hard throughout the year to make Earth Day every day. We encourage you to do the same by starting now with an Earth Day pledge to make whatever changes you can to make a difference.

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

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