MADISON (WKOW) -- The song on the radio may say it's the most wonderful time of the year, but in these parts, it's also one of the dirtiest times of the year. The concern is over small particulate matter in the air.
The Sierra Club's Jennifer Feyerherm said that's because we tap power plants not just for winter heat, but also for holiday flair. "People will all be adding a lot to their electricity use over the holidays, and we all need to be thinking about when we use electricity, and when we want to use it and how much we're using," she said.
One of her solutions is to use LED Christmas lights. Light emitting diodes are considerably more expensive up front than regular incandescent lights, but use nearly 90-percent less juice once they're plugged in.
By contrast, curbing that other cause of holiday pollution won't be as easy a sell now with gas prices under two bucks a gallon. Feyerherm admits there's "a lot of travel, a lot of shopping, a lot of errand running."
Her suggestion to cut tailpipe emissions is "to stop and think about what you need to do over the course of the day, grouping your trips together so you'r driving a lot less when you're doing your holiday shopping."
This concern over holiday pollution caught the eye of other groups. Half a dozen are sponsoring the Madison Lights Out campaign. It will ask residents to turn off any unnecesary lights in December.
The Sierra Club group isn't directly connected to that, though Feyerherm hopes something will no longer be in the holiday air that's worth singing about. "They all come down to the same thing, whether it's driving less or shutting off your lights."
Here's how this could affect everyone in Dane County. Groups like Sustain Dane and the Dane County Clean Air Coalition are awaiting a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last summer, the EPA recommended the air quality be classified as non-attainment. A final decision will be made in January.
Reaching nonattainment status means things like drivers would pay for reformulated gas, like that sold in Milwaukee and Chicago. Businesses would also have to meet extra criteria to cut down on pollution.
The theory is, some of these last ditch efforts might be enough to keep the county in attainment status. Feyerherm was doubtful that much could change, but said conservation is always a good thing.