In celebration of Earth Day, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has announced plans to continue existing environmental programs and to implement new ones. The new programs offer a creative and dedicated approach toward clean air, New Haven Public Information Office Director Roland Lemar said.

“In New Haven, we feel that we’re one of the more aggressive and innovative municipalities who address this issue head on,” Lemar said.

One of the first priorities is to make a switch from gas-powered cars to new electric-gas hybrid cars. In the next few months, the city plans to replace its older vehicles with models from the new Toyota Prius line. DeStefano himself will also be replacing his Lincoln Navigator with a Prius in the next few months. In addition to making its fleet of cars more environmentally friendly, the city will also provide free parking for registered hybrid cars.

“It’s a great way to encourage people to use the hybrids,” Lemar said. “It is a legitimate car choice for the average commuter who comes into downtown.”

Another major program is the 20 percent by 2010 program, which outlines a strategy to have 20 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources. By switching to renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy, the amount of pollution will be significantly reduced, Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt said.

“I think the city’s moving in the right direction,” said Voigt, the chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee. “We really need to start working on a way to be environmental friendly.”

Policy analyst Robert Smuts ’01 said current renewable energy use has already yielded favorable results.

“The commitment we made to renewable energy is bearing fruit,” Smuts said. “We are a leader within the state and the nation now.”

However, one of the problems with using renewable energy is its higher cost, Lemar said. The city plans to encourage surrounding counties to support renewable energy, thereby reducing costs for everyone.

“It’s somewhat more costly, but if there’s enough up-front demand, then the energy producers will increase the supply of renewable energy and costs will fall.” Lemar said.

In addition to creating new initiatives, Smuts said the city plans to continue funding successful current efforts, such as the energy conservation program. Smuts said in spite of the ozone problems and the tight financial condition of New Haven, the city has been able to successfully reduce pollution over the years.

“We’re reducing energy we need and it’s a tremendous cost saver for the city,” Smuts said. “Even though we are the second poorest community in the state, we’ve found innovative ways to really make a difference.”

Smuts said that the program has cut costs by almost $4 million and has set an example for other municipalities.

Despite efforts to curb energy consumption, a recent EPA study showed that New Haven had the lowest amount of ozone of all the counties in Connecticut. The ozone levels are a reflection of a much wider national problem, Lemar said.

“What we know is that we don’t create a lot of the pollution that affects us,” Lemar said. “The Midwest is actually fine because their pollutants end up in New England, which causes depleted air quality here.”

Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said he is glad the city is taking the initiative with environmental concerns.

“I’m proud that’s we’re doing it,” Goldfield said. “I give this administration a lot of credit for engaging in these programs.”