Harris County’s problem with tiny, lung-damaging particles in the air can be blamed partly on African dust and crop-clearing fires in Mexico, the state’s environmental agency has told federal regulators.
If the Environmental Protection Agency agrees with the state’s finding, then the county would avoid stringent pollution controls and sanctions for particulate matter, or soot.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is making the case after Harris County last December failed to meet new federal limits for soot. The EPA tightened the limits after a federal court concluded that previous standards were too weak to protect public health.
The state agency has flagged seven days from 2010 to 2012 when high soot levels were “not reasonably preventable” because of particles from faraway places. If not for pollution from Africa and Mexico, also known to regulators as “exceptional events,” the county would have met the new limits, the agency concluded.
Maybe this is what Ted Cruz is talking about when he demands tighter control over the border. Who knew he cared about the environment?
Environmentalists sharply criticized the state’s assertion, saying the agency is “looking for an easy way out” instead of cracking down on harmful pollution.
“It’s not the way to address a serious issue,” said Elena Craft, a Texas-based toxicologist for the Environmental Defense Fund. “Whether the pollution comes from an exceptional event or not, the public health risk is the same.”
Larry Soward, a former state commissioner who is now board president of Air Alliance Houston, said he expects the EPA to approve the state’s request.
But Soward said he is concerned that progress on air quality would stall if federal regulators allow the exceptions.
“The practical effect will be that no one does anything to ensure the new (particulate matter) standard is met other than what is being done now, which is very little,” he said. “In other words, Houston will come to parade rest.”
The EPA isn’t expected to make its decision till late next year. All snark aside, whether or not this is a real thing shouldn’t distract from the real need to deal with the problems and factors that we do control. A bit of dust that blows in from elsewhere doesn’t change the fundamentals.