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Campaign for alternative commutes to reduce smog

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

To offset pollution created by auto emissions in metro Atlanta, the regional nonprofit, The Clean Air Campaign, has created a new incentive for drivers to use alternative means of commuting.

Kicking off the 2008 Smog Season, which starts in May and continues through September, The Campaign has launched an initiative it is calling the "One Ton Challenge."

It will implement the challenge in partnership with nine regional transportation management associations.

The purpose of the initiative is to create greater awareness of how small changes in each driver's commute habits can have a big impact on the region's air quality and quality of life, said Lindsay Durfee, a spokeswoman for of The Clean Air Campaign.

Commuters are asked to take an online pledge to reduce their drive-alone commuting by one day per week, which, in turn, will reduce air-borne pollution "by the ton."

"By cutting back on single-occupancy vehicle round-trips to work just one day a week," Durfee said, "the average commuter will cut individual pollution output [by 40 pounds a week and] by one ton over the course of the year."

The challenge was launched on Thursday, the first day of metro Atlanta's five-month smog season. Smog season is when the region is most likely to experience days with pollution levels that exceed federal limits and endanger human health.

The start of the 2008 smog season also means new, more stringent ozone standards in Georgia and across the nation. The new standards were introduced, based on research that shows lower levels of exposure to ground-level ozone [the main component of smog], than first believed, can be harmful to human health. The standards also effectively lower the level at which air-pollution violations are issued.

Over the past decade, the number of counties in Georgia that failed to meet federal air-quality standards rose from 13 to 28, due, in part, to more stringent air-quality standards. About half of the air pollutants in those counties are from cars and trucks.

Georgia's Clean Air Force (GCAF), tests approximately 2.3 million vehicles each year with more than 750 testing stations and 900 testing lanes statewide in its Enhanced Vehicle Emission Inspection and Maintenance Program.

In the 13 metro-Atlanta counties that include Clayton and Henry counties, gas-powered passenger cars and light-duty trucks, with model years between 1984 and 2005, must pass an annual emission inspection before being issued license plates and license renewals. Model years 2006 to 2008 are exempt, because of the low level of emissions produced by newer model cars.

"We are dedicated to providing motorists with the tools necessary to follow Georgia's Clean Air Force program guidelines, empowering them to play a role in keeping our air clean," said Cherrise Boone, spokeswoman with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Boone said the division's goal this year is to help metro Atlanta reach record low emissions that will, in turn, improve the state's air quality. In 2007, there were 39 days of unhealthy air quality and nine code red, or significantly unhealthy, air-quality days.

"The numbers really add up," said Kevin Green, executive director of The Clean Air Campaign.

Each year, The Campaign estimates an increased use of commute alternatives results in 42 million car trips eliminated from our roadways, 1,800 tons of pollutants not released into the air, and roughly $400 million in reduced automotive fuel, maintenance, and repair costs.

"The One Ton Challenge is an opportunity for residents to join the green movement and make one small change that can have a big impact," Green added.

He said he believes there are compelling reasons to take action to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in metro Atlanta.

"Our economy and our health depend on cleaner air," he said. "With gas prices at a record high, we're in a perfect storm that should encourage more commuters to adopt clean commuting."

The Campaign encourages metro Atlanta residents to stay informed by signing up to receive Smog Alerts at The Campaign's web site.

"We're already seeing huge increases in the number of people who are joining our programs to save money on gas," Green said. "We hope even more people will join our efforts, so we can all breathe a little easier."

You can sign up for the Challenge at The Campaign web site, where participants can find commute alternatives, and programs that offer cash and prizes for those willing to adopt a clean mode of transportation.

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On the net:

The Clean Air Campaign: www.cleanaircampaign.com

Georgia's Clean Air Force: www.cleanairforce.com