LAFAYETTE — Lafayette should begin taking voluntary steps to reduce air pollution before it’s forced to do so by federal regulators, representatives from the state Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday.
Air quality in Lafayette meets current federal standards, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering toughening those standards in the near future to levels that could put the Lafayette area in the category of “non-attainment,” said Michael Vince, of DEQ’s air quality assessment division.
“This isn’t an issue now, but if EPA keeps going in the direction it is going, we need to be ready for this,” Vince said.
A long list of headaches can come with the “non-attainment” designation, including stricter environmental reviews for roads or other projects involving federal money and more stringent permitting and pollution control requirements for industry.
“It’s a really big red flag for people who want to come in and build a new site,” said Vince, who spoke Thursday to a small group that included representatives from City-Parish Government, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and Lafayette Utilities System.
Depending on how far out of line the Lafayette metropolitan area is with stricter air pollution standards, drivers may be bringing their vehicles in for mandatory emissions tests, Vince said.
The air pollutant that’s an issue in Lafayette is ozone, which can lead to breathing and lung problems, particularly in children, the elderly and people with compromised health.
Ozone is created when emissions, mainly from gas-powered engines and factories, react in the sunlight.
In the Lafayette area, Vince said, factories have been less of an issue than gas-powered engines: passenger vehicles, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, construction equipment.
“Industry is not a real big player here in the Lafayette area,” he said.
Vince and other representatives from DEQ offered general ideas about how to begin addressing ozone issues, including encouraging telecommuting and carpooling to cut the number of vehicles on the road, asking contractors to use more energy-efficient machinery and to work at night when ozone is less of an issue, and sponsoring trade-in programs that allow residents to exchange old gas-powered lawn equipment for more environmentally friendly models.
Vince urged local officials to formally come together in a coalition to begin talking about the issue.
“You are not really close now, but you need to look at it for the future,” he said.
City-parish officials have been working on programs in recent years that could help.
Lafayette has been gradually replacing its diesel-powered transit buses with cleaner-burning natural gas models.
The city has also converted 45 other vehicles in its fleet to run off natural gas and plans to convert another 20 before the end of the year, according to figures from City-Parish Director of Traffic and Transportation Tony Tramel.