Being a commuter city may end up really biting Lawrence residents in the wallet.
Some local government leaders are now saying it looks likely that Lawrence will be included in a new EPA air-quality program that could require motorists to purchase higher-priced gasoline during summer months.
“This can end up costing us dearly as a community,” said Scott Zaremba, an owner of the Lawrence Zarco 66 gasoline stations.
Specifically, it could cost an extra 10 cents to 20 cents per gallon for specially formulated gasoline that is designed to help keep ozone levels in check.
If Lawrence is required to start using the special fuel, it may have its commuting ways to thank.
Air quality standards
For the past several years, the Kansas City metro area has been labeled by the Environmental Protection Agency as an area that currently does not meet the minimum air-quality standards when it comes to ozone. Gasoline stations in the metro area have been required to sell special low vapor pressure gasoline for the past several summers.
But now, EPA leaders are looking to place the same regulations on adjacent Douglas, Miami and Leavenworth counties. The reason is that those communities send large numbers of commuters into Kansas City. Those commuters help contribute to air-quality problems in the metro area.
And Douglas County is the biggest of the bunch. A new study by the Mid America Regional Council estimates 18,000 Douglas County commuters enter the metro area each weekday. That’s the largest total of any outside county.
That has some city leaders worried that the EPA is going to insist that Douglas County be included in Kansas City’s “nonattainment” area for air quality. A city staff memo recently told city commissioners that “it appears there is a good chance” that Douglas County will be found out of compliance with ozone air standards.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment likely will recommend to the EPA that Douglas County not be included in the nonattainment zone, but there have been indications that the EPA is poised to reject that recommendation.
“That’s kind of the drift we’ve been getting,” said Richard Ziesenis, director of environmental health for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
But both Ziesenis and Zaremba said they still are holding out hope that the EPA can be convinced to keep the county out of the special district.
Zaremba said the city needs to tout to the EPA its efforts in getting people to use public transit, and may want to think about investing more money into commuter bus systems to Kansas City and Topeka. It also needs to highlight efforts by Westar Energy to improve air quality at its Lawrence Energy Center coal power plant.
“My thought is that the EPA won’t throw you to the wolves if you are making reasonable efforts to control this,” Zaremba said. “We just have to be proactive.”
Ziesenis said it will be worth the city’s efforts to do what it can to stay out of the nonattainment zone. He said in addition to potentially higher gasoline prices, the EPA could require new industrial businesses looking to come to the county to meet stricter air-quality guidelines.
“This could really have some very serious ramifications on our economy,” Ziesenis said.
A decision by EPA on whether to require new regulations in Douglas County is not expected before March. The county could be given until 2013 before it would have to start selling the higher-priced gasoline.