April 29, 2009
Clean Air update

Some news of interest from ACT Texas:

The House Committee on Environmental Regulation will hear important clean air bills today including SB 16 - Senator Averitt's omnibus clean air and energy efficiency bill. Several address flaws in the TCEQ permitting process. (TCEQ was already in the news this week when Senators Shapleigh, Davis, Ellis and Watson held a press conference on "cleaning up the mess at TCEQ.")


Representative Donna Howard's HB 721 addresses one of the more difficult challenges in the fight for clean air: keeping affected counties (areas that are designated as having poor air quality under the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan but have not yet reached non-attainment status) from going into non-attainment. Translation: cities such as Waco, Austin and San Antonio are not in the same category for air quality monitoring and measures as are Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, but they're on what amounts to a watch list. All three cities and surrounding counties are fighting to keep from going into non-attainment. However, the permitting process in affected areas currently does not require assessing the cumulative impact of proposed power plants on the area's ozone level.

SB 16 has measures that will require cumulative impact analysis for any new power plants proposed to be built in non-attainment areas - an absolutely necessary tool for these areas which are at risk of losing federal highway funds as the result of non-compliance with federal clean air standards. However, what's missing in the Texas clean air picture are better permitting rules that will help other cities keep their air quality from deteriorating.

There's a real irony at work here: a city must have a severe air quality problem before it qualifies for the type of measures that could have kept its air quality from deteriorating in the first place. And at that point, the things it must do have become far more costly and difficult than they would have been if the factors that were contributing to the ozone problem had been addressed before reaching this critical point.

Currently, the only way counties and cities can get all the resources possible to clean their air is to be in non-attainment. The improvements proposed in SB 16 are also limited to non-attainment areas. These measures, including stricter permitting rules such as cumulative impact analysis, are not available to counties trying to prevent more severe air quality issues. This situation has been brought up in testimony before House Environmental Regulation time and time again. After a while, it begins to have the feel of a chicken and egg story. HB 721 would end that story by giving Texans the tools they need to keep their air from getting so polluted in the first place.

Isn't an ounce of prevention supposed to be worth a pound of cure?

(Emphasis in original.) Yes, I sure think so. SB16 has already passed the Senate, with the Harris County GOP contingent solidifying its objectively pro-dirty air credentials. Seems to me that the approach outlined here would be a big long-run cost saver, since preventing a mess is almost always a lot cheaper than cleaning one up. Not to mention the enormous health benefits, making these cities and the state as a whole more attractive to those looking to relocate, and so on. But who cares about that when you have an ideology to support and a pile of pollution lobby cash to hoard?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 29, 2009 to That's our Lege
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