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How do you define something that is transformational?

The Indiana Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Program and the Indiana Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund Committee are poised to begin accepting applications as soon as the end of this month for one third of the nearly $41 million in transformative projects across the state aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide emissions created by diesel-powered vehicles and equipment.

The anticipated funding is creating a buzz in the sustainable transportation sector as well as for those with fleets across the state. It’s an exciting time for sustainable transportation and clean air in Indiana, one those of us in industry and our partners have been anxiously awaiting for more than two years.

If you recall, the national fund was established in September 2017 following a January 2017 settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the automaker for its violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act after Volkswagen admitted to rigging emission control equipment on its diesel vehicles to operate only during emission testing.

While there are many complex components to the settlement, the goal is to get older diesel vehicles and equipment out of service and replace them with cleaner options.

At the state level, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb named the Indiana Department of Environmental Management the beneficiary and administrator of the program and appointed members of the committee in October 2017. The committee began meeting in January 2018 and met most recently on March 4 to iron out some of the remaining details on the request for proposals packet, which is set for an estimated public release date of March 22 for the first round of projects.

South Shore Clean Cities has been working with our members and partners on transformative projects for nearly 20 years with projects that improve air quality, support domestic fuels, reduce dependence on imported oil, improve energy security, encourage local economic development and maintain a healthy labor force. Our Green Fleet programs with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and the Michiana Area Council of Governments have allowed us to conduct a full analysis of public fleets to ensure they are ready to apply for the VW funding with our assistance and to seek the most cost-effective, transformative projects possible.

We believe the most transformational projects will involve and support a vast number of programs and sectors, including the Michigan to Montana I-94 Clean Fuel Corridor Project, which aims to reduce gaps in alternative fueling and electric vehicle charging stations along the interstate. South Shore Clean Cities is a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy grant program.

What role will these projects have in the NIRPC 2050 program and its efforts to positively shape the future of the region? How might the labor force stand to benefit from the projects? What impact could it have on municipal or public school budgets moving forward? What ordinances might be needed to support long-term, transformational programs? What new partnerships could be formed to create the greatest level of success?

The possibilities are exciting. When the funding is exhausted, for the program to be truly transformational, a paradigm shift needs to take place. The use of cleaner, domestic, sustainable fuel sources and the vehicles and equipment that support them need to become the norm, not the exception. Creating long-term plans that do so will enhance the quality of life for all.

The transformational wheels are beginning to turn. How will you transform the future?

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

Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.