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You are here: Home / Publications / Periodicals / Natural Outlook / Spring 2010 / Air Quality Challenges in Texas

Air Quality Challenges in Texas

Texas faces substantial challenges in the next several years, many of them due to new requirements from the federal government. (Natural Outlook, Spring 2010)

Ozone Standards

On Jan. 7, 2010, the EPA proposed a range for a new primary ozone standard designed to protect public health, of between 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm)—down from the 0.075 ppm level adopted by the EPA in 2008. Twenty-eight counties have monitor readings that are above the lowest range of the proposed primary ozone standard of 0.060 ppm.

The TCEQ has formally commented that the lower standard does not offer significantly better health protection than the 1997 standard of 0.08 ppm.

“The EPA’s own data supports a conclusion that a standard of 85 ppb is protective,” says Chairman Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D. “This EPA decision provides the illusion of greater protectiveness, but with no regard for cost, in terms of dollars or in terms of the freedoms that Americans are accustomed to.”

“This new proposed range will cause unwarranted concern in areas currently in attainment. There is no doubt we strive to make the air cleaner through our permitting process and a variety of other programs; but the goals set by the EPA must be achievable,” says Commissioner Buddy Garcia. “The purpose of the Clean Air Act is to protect human health and the environment, not to attain an arbitrary threshold.”

“The Texas Legislature has invested more than $1 billion in programs that have resulted in significant reductions in mobile source emissions, mobile sources that the federal government prohibits us from regulating. This is necessary because Texas is penalized for ozone nonattainment that is caused in large part by these mobile source emissions that the state cannot regulate,” says Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein. “This new proposed range from the federal government will cause urban areas across America that have automobiles, sunshine, and variable summer winds to contemplate what is reasonably left to do to reduce these ozone concentrations.”

The EPA also proposed to establish a distinct cumulative, seasonal, “secondary” standard, designed to protect sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. The EPA proposed to set the level of the secondary standard within the range of 7 to 15 ppm-hours. This new standard would add weighted hourly ozone concentrations across all days in a three-month period of the year when ozone concentrations are highest. Twenty-three counties have monitor readings above the lowest range of the proposed secondary ozone standard of 7 ppm-hours.

CO2 Regulations

The EPA also recently announced its intent to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2). Despite the TCEQ’s opposition to the CO2 regulation, the agency is working to ensure that states’ interests are protected if the regulations proceed. The greatest concern about greenhouse gas regulation is that these regulations would increase the cost of energy and consequently, the cost of almost everything Americans consume. Other concerns include the possibility of regulations affecting jobs in the U.S. Measuring the effectiveness of any CO2 regulation in reducing global temperatures is another complex challenge facing regulators and policy makers.

Barnett Shale

Oil and gas drilling in the Barnett Shale area in and around Fort Worth has grown rapidly in the last few years and, for the first time, large-scale gas production is taking place in more urban environments. The TCEQ has increased investigations and research in the area; is pushing the oil and gas industry to quickly reduce emissions; and is evaluating the need for changes in permitting requirements for oil and gas operations. Extensive monitoring studies in the Barnett Shale area have been completed by the TCEQ.

Goals

“Texas already has some of the most stringent emission standards in the United States,” says Chairman Shaw. “It is the goal of each and every one of us at the TCEQ to ensure a clean and safe environment for all Texans in the most efficient and economic manner possible. We will meet the challenges that lie ahead. We will achieve our goals by continuing to incorporate the latest scientific research and methods, together with cutting-edge technology, to strategically investigate, evaluate, and improve the air quality for the citizens of Texas.”

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