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LRAPA’s Future on the Ropes?

The question of whether a local air agency like Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) is better for Lane County’s air quality than moving to a state agency was the topic Commissioner Pete Sorenson wanted to see addressed at the County Commissioners’ LRAPA work session Nov. 27. Sorenson says the agenda set for the meeting, which was called at the behest of Commissioner Jay Bozievich, was all about the agency and not about the air.

LRAPA is a local air agency which, according to its executive director, Merlyn Hough, who spoke at the work session, is responsible for everything from granting permits to industries that release air toxics to enforcing federal, state and local air pollution regulations and conducting public education and outreach regarding air quality. 

LRAPA is funded through a combination of permit fees, federal and state grants and local government funding. LRAPA says that it also receives “Airmetrics enterprise revenues” from the local manufacture of portable air monitoring devices sold throughout the world. 

According to Hough’s report, the portion of its funding that LRAPA gets from Lane County is part of $121,670 per year, split between the county and cities of Eugene, Springfield, Oakridge and Cottage Grove. In exchange, the report says, “LRAPA currently provides about $680,710 per year of local ordinance-related services.”

The agency has both been praised for its work to improve air quality in cities such as Oakridge that have been plagued with toxic air, mainly due to wood stove heating in the winter, and it has also been criticized as too favorable to industry in its permits to pollute. 

Sorenson says that whenever large highway projects such as the West Eugene Parkway have been proposed, LRAPA has said they would not adversely affect air quality. However, car and diesel emissions have been cited as major concerns when it comes to Oregon’s air. Sorenson wonders if the state Department of Environmental Quality has been more stringent on the effects the highway expansions have on air quality.

Other cities, such as Portland, rely upon the DEQ for air pollution issues, but according to The Oregonian, the agency said back in May that “it has exhausted its budget for the air toxics program and it has very little money for air pollution monitoring.”

Sorenson says the work session was a good check-in and opportunity to review LRAPA, but he feels that health and air quality advocates should have been invited to participate along with city officials. 

Sorenson read a letter from the county’s Public Health Advisory Committee that advocated for LRAPA, and various city officials and commissioners said they did not want to make a change.

“If air quality can be improved by moving it to state level of regulation then I’m open to the idea of getting rid of LRAPA,” Sorenson says. “But if the purpose is to get rid of regulation and minimize air quality then I will do what I can to stop it.”