Laura Murray of the Wabash Valley Power Association shows off the interior of a Tesla Model 3 on Tuesday at the South Shore Clean Cities annual conference in Michigan City. The electric vehicle's batteries are underneath the car, leaving ample storage room in the trunk and some under the hood as well. Staff photo by Doug Ross, The Times
Laura Murray of the Wabash Valley Power Association shows off the interior of a Tesla Model 3 on Tuesday at the South Shore Clean Cities annual conference in Michigan City. The electric vehicle's batteries are underneath the car, leaving ample storage room in the trunk and some under the hood as well. Staff photo by Doug Ross, The Times
MICHIGAN CITY — Even as South Shore Clean Cities received praise Tuesday for its work in improving air and water quality, the U.S. Department of Energy emphasized the mission of implementing new technology is urgent.

“Indiana’s air and water are cleaner now than they’ve been since the 1970s,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a video aired at the South Shore Clean Cities annual conference.

“This designation is a well-deserved recognition of your collective efforts successfully supporting clean energy and innovations in technology right here in Indiana for more than 20 years,” he said.

In February, the nonprofit agency became the first Clean Cities coalition to be certified by the DOE to be statewide. The nonprofit will be changing its name to reflect the new status.

“I’m excited about our work that’s taking our successes here in Northwest Indiana across the state,” Executive Director Carl Lisek said.

He and Holcomb stressed Indiana’s push for innovation in the transportation and energy sectors.

“The first alternative fuel corridor happened right here in Indiana,” Lisek said, with the state’s stretch of Interstate 94 adding charging stations and alternative fuel stations along the interstate.

Holcomb pointed to a just-announced research project. Indiana, which redefined highway standards with the Ideal Section on the Lincoln Highway in Dyer, could be the first state to debut a road that charges electric vehicles while they drive.

“With the partnership between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University to development the world’s first wireless charging highway segment, we’re paving the way for innovation in emerging vehicle technology and the future of mobility itself,” Holcomb said.

Michael Berube, deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation with the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said his agency’s urgent goals are being driven by the planet’s timetable, as evidenced by signs that climate change is already happening. The largest wildfire in history is currently burning out West, he said, one of those harbingers of change.

“We are in a climate crisis,” he said. “It’s not a matter of choice. We must achieve these goals.”

His agency is working feverishly to try to get to its goal of 50% of vehicles being electric by 2030. That’s part of the push toward net zero emissions by 2050.

“We know it will take technology and cost reductions to get there, but that alone won’t be enough,” Berube said. It will require buy-in from everyday Americans, too.

He’s also looking at the carbon footprint during the entire life cycle of the power for a vehicle.

Danielle McGrath, president of the Indiana Energy Association, said Indiana has shifted from 82.6% coal for generating electricity in 2010 to 53.7% now.

In Northwest Indiana, NIPSCO is doing its part by shuttering coal-fired power plants and switching its Shaffer Generating Station in Wheatfield to natural gas while investing heavily in new solar and wind generation installations.

“Seeing the transition that that company has undergone is just incredible,” McGrath said.

Transportation accounts for 34% of CO2 emissions in the United States, Berube said. Automobiles and light passenger trucks account for more than half of the transportation total.

Electric power generation accounts for 25%; industry, 20%; buildings, 12%; and agriculture, 9%.

“We can’t just say drive less or order less package. That’s just not efficient,” Berube said. Technology needs to drive change.

At the same time, it’s important to look at historic environmental injustices and address them so transportation policy doesn’t leave anyone behind, as has been the case in the past, he said.
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