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Clear the Air Challenge: Calling on Reporters to Take the Challenge

By Donna Kemp Spangler and Amy Joi O’Donoghue

Last year, I committed to parking my vehicle and taking transit to work each and every day during July’s statewide Clear the Air Challenge, a friendly, month-long competition sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and embraced by Governor Gary Herbert, who has encouraged all state agencies to participate.

Donna and Amy Joi

This year, I’m upping my game by calling on Utah reporters to sign up – using the TravelWiseTracker – to see who can reduce the most vehicle emissions by eliminating single-occupancy (SOV) miles. That means that when you choose a clean-air option like transit, biking, walking, carpooling, trip-chaining, or telecommuting, you can log the miles you avoided on the road, and as a result spare tons of smog-forming pollutants that foul Utah’s air.

Amy: When Donna threw down the challenge by inviting my participation in the Clear the Air Challenge, I have to admit some panic set in.

Oh, as a reporter I have been writing about this for years, but was I really ready to participate? I firmly believe that Utah Governor Gary Herbert is right when he reminds residents that air quality is everyone’s concern, and as such, it is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to reduce their own pollution contribution.

Donna: It’s all for a good cause, making clean air choices a habit, especially during the summer when harmful ozone is formed by pollutants emitted from vehicles and then cooked by heat and strong sunlight. The smog-forming pollution can cause lungs to swell, and if overexposed during long periods of time, can act like a sunburn on the lungs and possibly cause long-term respiratory problems.

By and large, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality employees make it a daily habit to get to work utilizing TRAX, FrontRunner, biking, or carpooling. When it comes to the Challenge, DEQ has a well-earned reputation as being hard to beat, even if we are one of the smallest agencies in the state in terms of employees.

Amy: I have been mindful over the years to telecommute when I can, or to combine my trips to be more responsible in that fashion. Because I am a reporter, however, and am expected to jump and run at a moment’s notice, it is practically impossible to park the car in the garage and hop on FrontRunner with the purest of intentions.

Such a move would make my editors wary and leave me with sore fingers from keeping them crossed all day hoping nothing happens. Because you know the minute you think it is going to be this kind of day with this kind of workload, that’s the minute you’d be wrong.

After consultation with my editors, and noting that our office participates in this on a corporate level, we decided it would be okay for me to give this a whirl.

Donna: That kind of support from employers is really critical to making the Challenge work. This year, we are providing DEQ employees incentives with “skip a trip, lunch it here” – a campaign to bring food trucks to the DEQ campus every Thursday. Dozens of state employees left their cars parked during the lunch hour.

My personal stats last year accounted for a total of 1,750 non-SOV miles, mostly the result of a 70-mile roundtrip commute via Ogden to Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s offices in Salt Lake.

Amy: I think that the Clear the Air Challenge is a noble effort, but it is only as effective as its participants and their level of honesty. My plea to organizers would be to simplify the mileage-saved ticker so participants are not put off at the outset. Is it clear that I am logging every trip I take in my car? Every trip I don’t take? I found it confusing.

Donna: Good point. I know that it can be a bit tricky to navigate the TravelWise Tracker to see your stats, particularly for newbies.It takes DEQ employees some time to get used to the system, and we appreciate the time they take to make it work for them.

Amy: I took some time off in July, so I know in that regard I am helping to reduce my own pollution, because I do not have to make the 45-mile round-trip to Salt Lake City from Davis County each day. Since I agreed to accept the Challenge, I will try to take FrontRunner a couple of times weekly when I do return to the office.

Donna: Utah’s news media does a good job writing about, talking about, and otherwise informing the public about the many air quality challenges facing the state.We appreciate everybody’s efforts to make this Challenge a success.

Amy: It’s just for a month, and it can’t hurt to become a little less dependent on my car. And rush hour? I don’t think it is going to quite as painful from the window of a fast-moving train…

Donna: It’s an adjustment, but one that can really help improve our air quality. Thanks for taking the Challenge, Amy!

Stay tuned for DEQ’s “Clear the Air Fair” on July 16, featuring local bicycle groups and a ride on the Legacy Trail. Details to follow on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and our website.
Donna Spangler

Donna: I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News.

Amy Joi O’Donoghue

Amy: I am an environmental reporter for the Deseret News specializing in coverage of issues that affect air, land, water, and energy development. I have worked at the Deseret News since 1998.

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