Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

If that’s your best, your best won’t do

We may never actually comply with federal clean air regulations.

Texas’ new plan to improve the Houston area’s famously dirty air may not meet federal limits for smog.

The pollution-fighting plan that state regulators are rolling out today predicts marked reductions in ozone, or smog, levels throughout the eight-county region.

But monitors in Deer Park and Sharpstown would still exceed federal limits by the 2019 deadline, according to the state’s projections. And the entire region would be out of compliance if one monitor showed ozone levels above the standards.

Just as a reminder, the standard we’re being asked to meet by 2019 is the one from 1997, not the one from today or the more stringent one that’s to come.

Still, state officials said the plan will bring Houston into compliance with the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for ozone for the first time.

That’s because TCEQ’s modeling of future emissions doesn’t capture everything that will help reduce smog, such as a voluntary, state-funded program that helps businesses replace old, dirty industrial diesel engines.

At the same time, the Houston region’s air quality is already ahead of expectations, said Susana Hildebrand, TCEQ’s chief engineer.

In such cases, a federal policy allows states to argue that the “weight of evidence” predicts success even without scientific proof. Texas took that position with the smog plan for Dallas-Fort Worth, and the EPA approved it last year.

“All of our trends and analysis show that emissions are going down in Houston even when the population is growing,” Hildebrand said. “That’s what the weight of evidence is all about.”

Yes, well, perhaps if the TCEQ spent more time enforcing regulations and less time with energy industry lobbyists and climate change deniers, then they wouldn’t have to rely on such back-door approaches.

Related Posts:

One Comment

  1. Jim Schermbeck says:

    This is the note I wrote to the reporter yesterday:

    “In such cases, a federal policy allows states to argue that the “weight of evidence” predicts success even without scientific proof. Texas took that position with the smog plan for Dallas-Fort Worth, and the EPA approved it last year.”

    Don’t know that you’ve had reason to keep track, but DFW blew that SIP this summer, in the middle of the worst recession in 50 years. Had economic activity been at “normal” levels, we would have blown it even worse. Not exactly the kind of track record you want to base your Houston SIP on.

    At least one of the items in the “weight of evidence” DFW SIP was the continued expansion of “green cement” policies basically boycotting the products of older “wet kiln” cement plants in DFW in favor of ones from newer, less polluting ones. However, the operator of the oldest kilns now making cement in DDFW sued over those policies and TCEQ has refused to support their extension into state policy – they actively lobbied against bills that would have implemented green cement policies at TXDOT, or would have removed the small legal nail the cement plant is hanging its entire case on.

    Weight of Evidence is basically a wish list that, depending on who’s doing the wishing, may be totally unrealistic. In this case, it was a TCEQ exercise just to get DFW “on down the road” and not to submit a plan that would actually clean up the air. And, what-do-you-know, it didn’t.