Who’s got bad air? We’ve got bad air!

From yesterday’s Chron: Houston still can’t get its air clean enough to satisfy federal requirements.

The greater Houston area will remain too smoggy to comply with federal clean air standards by a 2010 deadline, Texas officials say.

This almost certainly will prompt the state to seek an extension of its allotted time for clearing the skies, perhaps even a lengthy one. State environmental officials say they expect the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region to meet healthy air standards no later than 2018.

“We feel comfortable that it will happen by then,” said David Schanbacher, chief engineer of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the agency responsible for developing a plan to ensure the state meets clean air goals.

I’m glad you feel comfortable about that, dude. I just have one question: How long can you hold your breath? Eight years is a bit beyond my capacity. With all due respect, Schanbacher sounds to me like a school kid who’s not worried about completing his homework because he’s “sure” the teacher will grant him an extension.)

(Actually, I have another question as well: What happens if the EPA says “no can do”, and hits us with sanctions like cutting off highway funds? Are we not at least a little bit worried about this possibility?

As you might imagine, the folks (like Sabrina Strawn of GHASP) are not particularly pleased by this development.

“We believe the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area could meet the standards if there were the political will to do so,” Strawn said. “So far, that hasn’t been there.”

To clean its air, Houston must control emissions of two “precursor” chemicals, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals, that react near the surface of the Earth with sunlight to form ozone. This chemical, helpful in the upper atmosphere for shielding the planet from ultraviolet rays, is harmful lower down, where it can irritate the respiratory system and aggravate asthma.

Strawn said a lack of political will is evident in a document released last week by the TCEQ, which has proposed several revisions its plan to clean Houston’s air.

Among the new strategies: limiting chemical emissions from marine and storage tank sources and requiring certain marine fuels to meet Texas Low Emission Diesel standards.

The new strategies, Strawn said, fail to address the biggest contributor of nitric oxides to the atmosphere – cars and trucks. In the Houston area, 55 percent of these chemicals come from such mobile sources.

I’ve said before that Sabrina is my neighbor, and I chatted with her about this last night. Among other things, she told me that her quote wasn’t quite right. Here’s her correction:

Yesterday’s article on Houston’s ozone problem needs clarification. Cars and trucks (on-road sources) contribute not 55% of the NOx as stated, but only about 35%. All mobile sources (on and off road such as construction equipment) do contribute just over half of all NOx emissions here. But if, as TCEQ claims, cars and trucks are the major part of the problem, how can Dallas, with a much greater contribution from mobile sources than in Houston, meet the deadline while we cannot? Well, Houston has way more industrial emissions.

Meeting clean air goals will require additional industrial controls, which TCEQ avoids; and considering mobile sources, something TCEQ wrongly claims only the federal government can do.

Houston voters recently turned out incumbents holding positions labeled “toxic” (e.g., Wong lost to Cohen). Again it’s time for Houston residents to rise up and say no, Houston deserves clean air, just like our prissy lil’ sis Dallas. We need clean air for ourselves, for our economic well-being, and for continuing the tradition of Houstonians coming together working to solve problems facing all.

In the meanwhile, TCEQ also is ostensibly accountable to the federal EPA. GHASP has sued EPA for accepting TCEQ’s most recent (we say inadequate) clean air plan for Houston. TCEQ’s thumbing its nose at EPA, we think, is the direct result of EPA’s failure to hold TCEQ accountable earlier this year. It’s time to express our will to our elected officials, public servants, and industrial leaders – follow the law and clean our air.

The article goes on to discuss the possibility of legislation to mandate stricter vehicle emission standards, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but as noted above, it isn’t enough. Sabrina Strawn’s question is exactly right: Why Dallas and not Houston? If they can do it, why can’t we? More to the point, don’t we deserve the same as they?

Houtopia has more.

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2 Responses to Who’s got bad air? We’ve got bad air!

  1. Trafficnerd says:

    Nobody should be pointing to Dallas as an example, they missed the clean air boat also.


  2. Charles Hixon says:

    Federal guidelines for clean air standards in Houston reminds me of federal guidelines for what constitutes a 100-year rainfall event (that occurs every 10 years). According to the federal government, we don’t flood and we have dirty air. If the federal government is right, they have not finished their homework.

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