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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: January 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Report: D-FW smog plan too weak

SMU professor says area won't reach goals; state defends proposal
08:39 AM CDT on Friday, July 20, 2007

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News

The state's new clean-air plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth area is far too weak to succeed, an analysis by a Southern Methodist University environmental engineering professor has found.

Al Armendariz examined trends in the region's levels of ozone, or smog, and the pollution cuts that the state has ordered over the next two years. He concluded that the plan would not bring ozone down to legal levels by the end of the summer 2009 smog season, the federal target date.

As a result, he found, people in North Texas would continue to breathe hazardous air pollution.

Ozone, the main local pollutant, poses a health risk to a wide range of people, especially children, the elderly and anyone with a respiratory ailment, such as asthma.

"I strongly believe that the [plan] submitted by the state of Texas fails to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and that the D-FW area will continue to violate the ozone standard," Dr. Armendariz wrote to Richard Greene, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state official in charge of the D-FW plan disputed Dr. Armendariz's findings.

"We have looked at his report and at this point don't see anything that would cause us to change our conclusion that the new D-FW [plan] will get the D-FW area into attainment by the ... deadline," said David Schanbacher, chief engineer of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

EPA spokesman David Bary said the agency did not plan a formal response to Dr. Armendariz's report. When the agency proposes a decision on the state's plan, it will consider the report along with other public comments the EPA receives, he said.

The EPA oversees state clean-air plans under federal law. Texas officials approved new plans for the D-FW area and greater Houston and submitted them to the EPA in late May.

Mr. Greene, the EPA regional chief, has threatened to reject the D-FW plan unless the state strengthens it, though a decision is months away. The state environmental commission defends its plan, saying it includes enough pollution reductions to meet federal requirements.

Modified plan

Mr. Greene voiced concerns about changes the state made between the plan's first version in December and the final version in May. Under the draft plan, the state predicted that ozone levels at two regional monitors would violate the federal health limit.

Under the final version, which Texas environmental commissioners adopted May 23, four local monitors would show ozone levels over the limit, revised forecasts showed.

Ozone levels across the region would be higher under the final plan than under the draft.

The changes eased requirements for cement kilns, local power plants, compressor engines for pipelines, and other industrial emissions sources.

Dr. Armendariz's 50-page report endorses Mr. Greene's concerns about the last-minute changes, but it also reaches a broader conclusion. For years, he found, pollution cuts have been much too small to reduce ozone levels.

From 1998 to 2003, emissions of ozone-causing pollutants in the region have been cut by about 23 percent, Dr. Armendariz found. Even with those reductions and additional ones since then, eight-hour ozone levels have remained flat and in some cases have gone up significantly.

"These reductions have been completely insufficient to do anything about eight-hour ozone values," he said in an interview.

"Eight-hour" refers to the way ozone is measured. Levels are measured each hour and then averaged in eight-hour periods.

Ozone forms in the air when summer sunlight reacts with emissions from vehicles, industrial plants and other sources. To reduce ozone levels, states try to reduce emissions of the chemicals that form ozone.

To reach the federal limit by late 2009, Dr. Armendariz found, ozone would have to drop by 12.5 percent from 2006 levels, the steepest plunge yet.

The emissions cuts that the new state plan envisions cannot make that happen, Dr. Armendariz concluded. His analysis called the planned reductions in ozone-causing nitrogen oxides "extremely inadequate" to reduce ozone to acceptable levels.

"The weight of evidence of recent ozone trends shows that ozone design values are increasing across much of the D-FW area and that the area will not achieve attainment by 2009," he wrote.
From 2003 to 2006, the most recent period for which data was available, the increase regionwide was about 0.5 parts per billion per year.

However, ozone levels in the northwestern counties of Tarrant, Denton and Parker increased more than twice that amount, about 1.1 ppb per year.

Ozone levels tend to be higher toward the northwestern part of the area because prevailing winds carry pollutants in that direction.

Suggested changes

Dr. Armendariz is urging the EPA to demand specific improvements to the plan. They include:
•Requiring all coal and natural-gas power plants in East Texas to make the same emissions cuts as those in D-FW and greater Houston. That would cut emissions by about 140 tons a day, more than three times as much as all other cuts the plan now mandates, Dr. Armendariz found.

Dr. Armendariz said the state's computer studies find that further reductions in East Texas power plant emissions would lower ozone levels in D-FW by as much as 1 part per billion – enough, he said, to bring one regional monitor into compliance and bring two others much closer.

State officials said they did not require cuts from East Texas power plants because those plants already have reduced pollution under previous state orders.

•Deeper cuts in emissions from cement kilns in Ellis County. The kilns are the region's biggest industrial sources of nitrogen oxides, created when they burn a variety of fuels, including, in the case of cement giant TXI, commercial hazardous waste.

The state ordered a 36 percent cut in nitrogen oxides from the cement kilns, based on what a pollution-control system called selective noncatalytic reduction, or SNCR, could achieve.

Dr. Armendariz cited his own analysis and a state-sponsored study in supporting the use of other pollution-control technologies, including selective catalytic reduction, or SCR. That system could yield 80 to 85 percent reductions.

State officials rejected the alternative as more expensive and unproven on cement kilns like those in Midlothian. Dr. Armendariz cited statements by CEMEX, one of the world's largest cement makers, that SCR is proven and available.

•A 55-mph highway speed limit across Dallas-Fort Worth. According to a North Central Texas Council of Government estimate, the move could cut nitrogen oxides by 17.24 tons per day, almost twice as much as any other local measure in the state's plan.

State officials previously responded to a similar suggestion by noting that the Legislature in 2003 prohibited state agencies from lowering speed limits to help air pollution. However, Dr. Armendariz wrote to Mr. Greene that that restriction is the state's problem, not the EPA's.

"The state can't exempt itself from the federal Clean Air Act," he said.