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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: July 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not-So-Clean-Air Plan: EPA should demand revision from TCEQ

Wednesday, July 25, 2007, Dallas Morning News Editorial

From the get-go, the state's clean-air plan for North Texas should have been a no-go.

When regulators first unveiled a draft of their proposal to reduce ozone, it was evident that state officials were settling for just squeaking by instead of aggressively reducing pollution. Their plan let power plants, cement kilns and cars off easy. Worse, the proposed restrictions fell short of federal air quality standards.

But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wasn't done.

Before approving the final version, regulators quietly removed the few teeth included in the original plan. The new-and-inferior proposal was so weak that Richard Greene, the regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, warned the TCEQ that the plan could be rejected.

Still, state officials insisted that, despite evidence to the contrary, Dallas-Fort Worth would somehow comply with ozone standards.

But an in-depth analysis by a Southern Methodist University professor leaves little doubt that North Texas' anti-pollution plan is inadequate. Al Armendariz, an assistant engineering professor, dissected the state's air models and analyzed pollution trend data.

His examination revealed that ozone levels must plummet at an unprecedented pace for Dallas-Fort Worth to come close to meeting federal standards. The state's own models project that four local monitors will exceed ozone limits – two of them by a wide margin.

That alone should disqualify the proposal.

His analysis underscores that for too long, the state has made only half-hearted attempts to reduce pollution, continuing a cycle of delays and failure.

Dr. Armendariz's report is not just an esoteric exercise in trend lines and number crunching. If, as the report predicts, North Texas fails to attain clean-air goals, residents will continue to breathe lung-scarring ozone.
But we could do better.

The EPA should reject the state's plan and require additional pollution cuts. The Armendariz report outlines a game plan for reducing ozone levels that includes expanding emissions restrictions on local power plants to include central and East Texas. Further limiting pollution from nearby cement kilns and regulating natural gas compressor engines also would reduce ozone. And reducing speed limits on North Texas highways would improve our air as well.
The state took the easy way out with its do-little plan. The EPA should demand that North Texas do more.

Al Armendariz: We can't wish our smog away

Clean-air plan won't keep N. Texas from violating ozone standard. We deserve better.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dallas-Fort Worth's ozone smog is going to disappear. No more yellow, orange or red alert days. No more concern about children playing soccer at the park during summer and fall afternoons. No more guilt about not carpooling or not riding DART. In 2 ½ years, the lung-damaging, asthma-inducing ozone smog will be as much a part of Dallas' past as the Wright amendment and Cowboys games at the Cotton Bowl.

Why is the ozone problem going away? The state of Texas said so.

On June 15, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality submitted the latest in a long line of Dallas-Fort Worth clean-air plans to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan was required by the federal Clean Air Act because North Texas does not meet the ozone air-quality standard.

The plan contains emission reductions that are supposed to ensure that our air quality will meet the ozone standard by the end of 2009. For this to happen, our ozone levels have to drop from the current level of 96 parts per billion to 84 ppb. A drop of 12 ppb is substantial – levels of ozone have never dropped this far in a short period of time in any metropolitan area in the history of the Clean Air Act.

The state's latest clean-air plan for the region targets emissions of nitrogen oxides, one of the two air pollutants that transform into ozone with the help of abundant summer sunlight. Over the next 2 ½ years, the plan will lower emissions from cars, trucks, factories and utilities in North Texas by approximately 5 percent.

The EPA is now evaluating the plan and will approve or reject it, based on whether it believes that the state has demonstrated conclusively that D-FW air will meet the ozone standard.

In contrast to the state's conclusions, I think the evidence is clear that the plan will not succeed and that our area will continue to violate the ozone standard well into the future. There are a number of reasons the plan will fail, including:

•EPA analyses indicate that emissions reductions of approximately 20 percent are required to lower ozone concentrations by 3 ppb. Remember, we need a 12 ppb drop to meet the standard.

•Ozone levels in North Texas would have to begin dropping immediately more than 10 times as fast as the state's own long-term data show is actually occurring to reach the standard by the end of 2009.

•The state's short-term data show that ozone levels are actually increasing in Tarrant, Denton and Parker counties.

•The state has submitted numerous failed ozone plans for our area, including in 1976, 1979, 1984, 1987, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2003. Each has not only been a state failure but also a failure by the federal government, since the EPA approved each plan.

It is time for the failure to stop. We pay high taxes and deserve better service from our government administrators and scientists. The EPA should not approve the plan submitted by the state and instead require a new one with emission reductions that ensure that our area will meet the ozone standard.

Everyone who breathes should contact Steve Page, EPA director of the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, at page.steve@epa.gov, and Richard Greene, EPA regional administrator, at greene.richard1@epa.gov, and tell them that it is time for the state to submit a real clean-air plan for our area.

Al Armendariz is an assistant professor in Southern Methodist University's School of Engineering. His e-mail address is aja@engr.smu.edu.