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Archive for the ‘Ozone’ Category

UPDATE:  Public Citizen’s legal team argued our case forcefully.  But it’s all up to the judge now, who could rule — either for or against us — any day.  Either way, there is likely to be an appeal and you can bet we will continue to need your support.

On August 10th, we appear before a judge to argue Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.

In the case, we’re challenging Trump’s deregulatory executive order.

The order aims to make it harder for the government to protect our air and water, guarantee the safety of our food, ensure our cars are safe, protect workers from on-duty hazards, address climate change and much more.

Before we argue the case before the judge, I wanted to take a moment to explain the stakes.

It’s not just what the deregulatory order would do on its own, as horrible as that is.

The order is the centerpiece of one of Trump’s overriding objectives:

Empower Big Business to pollute, cheat, rip off, endanger, discriminate and price gouge free from governmental restrictions.

Trump can’t stop talking about this.

On his fifth day in office, Trump told a gathering of CEOs that environmental protections are “out of control,” and promised to roll back regulations.

A week later, he met with Big Pharma CEOs. In place of his tough talk about medicine prices, he promised to eliminate 75 to 80 percent of FDA regulations — a far more extreme position even than Big Pharma’s.

He’s kept up the talk in his endless meetings with CEOs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just talk.

Trump and his cronies are doing real damage:

  • On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order freezing all pending regulations.That act alone delayed the start date on important public protections years in the making.
  • At the end of January, Trump signed the deregulatory order at issue in Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.The order prevents agencies from issuing new safety, health or other regulatory protections unless they eliminate two on the books. Without considering the benefits of the rules, the costs of the new rule must be fully offset by the costs of the eliminated rules.If that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it is.
  • In February, Trump signed an order directing agencies to review rules and make recommendations for cuts.The New York Times reports that these reviews are “being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.”
  • The administration worked with the Republican Congress to use an obscure procedure to repeal more than a dozen rules adopted at the end of the Obama administration.The first such measure was an anti-corruption rule.Also sacrificed were rules on internet privacy, toxic pollution of streams and workplace health and safety.
  • On a case-by-case basis, Trump has moved to repeal many of the Obama administration’s most important rules.These include protections against predatory for-profit colleges, a retirement advice rule that will save consumers $17 billion a year, Obama’s main climate change rule and much more.
  • Last month, the White House budget office reported that the Trump administration has withdrawn or suspended 860 pending rules.

This is all part of a grand design.

To let corporations do as they will.

Even if it means more dangerous cars. More bank rip-offs. Preventable injuries at work. Dirtier air and poisoned water. Contaminated food. Preventable, avoidable and unnecessary death, disease and suffering.

And the deregulatory executive order is at the heart of the scheme.

We are doing everything we can to block Trump’s project to permit corporations to pollute and plunder.

Please chip in today to help us fight Trump’s plan.

Donate now or even join our monthly giving program.

Thank you for anything you can contribute!

Robert Weissman, President
Public Citizen

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Texas Director Adrian Shelley speaking at a VW Settlement community engagement meeting in Fort Worth.

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal led to a $14.7 billion dollar settlement. Basically, what Volkswagen did was install what are called “defeat devices” which were programmed to run differently during emissions tests so that they appeared to be much less polluting than they actually are. In some cases, NOx (nitrogen oxides), which is not only harmful but is also a precursor to ground-level ozone, was up to 40 times higher than what the cheating emissions tests revealed!

By cheating on emissions tests, Volkswagen harmed public health, causing at least 59 premature deaths and over $450 million in health and social costs (Barrett, 2015). The settlement provides Volkswagen with a chance to compensate owners of vehicles impacted by the defeat devices, mitigate some of the harm done, and reduce future harm using zero emissions technology.

Details of the Settlement

The Volkswagen Settlement is essentially divided into three parts: a personal vehicle buyback program, an environmental mitigation program to reduce the harm done, and a zero emissions vehicle investment commitment to prevent more harm and promote zero emissions technology.

More information on the personal vehicle buyback program can be found at VW’s settlement website http://www.VWCourtSettlement.com. If you have an eligible vehicle, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Bosch VW Settlement (https://www.boschvwsettlement.com/en/Home/FAQ).

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be administered at the state level and will fund projects to upgrade and replace dirty diesel engines. Texas will receive $209 million dollars. Once a beneficiary is designated, projects will be determined. We are collecting feedback on these projects, discussed below.

The third fund is the Zero Emissions Vehicle Investment Commitment, also known as Electrify America. VW will be allocating $2 billion dollars toward zero emissions infrastructure and educational campaigns to promote their use. The City of Houston is among the first round of cities to be supported by this fund.

Community Engagement

Public Citizen, alongside Houston coalition partners Coalition of Community Organizations, t.e.j.a.s., and Air Alliance Houston hosted informational meetings regarding the Volkswagen Settlement at Austin High School in Houston and at the Houston Area Research Center in the Woodlands in May and June. Given that both the Houston area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in non-attainment for ozone and that this settlement could help improve air quality in both regions, we hosted additional informational meetings last week in Dallas and Fort Worth with our co-sponsors Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness Group, Liveable Arlington, and Arlington Conservation Council, Fort Worth Sierra Club Group and the Dallas Sierra Club Group.

While some other states have had a formal community engagement process, an agency of the State of Texas has yet to hold public meetings regarding the settlement. That’s where Public Citizen and other organizations have stepped in to gather important feedback from community members in regards to what sorts of projects hold the most interest. These projects are limited to those that reduce NOx emissions through engine upgrades or replacements, such as replacing old freight trucks, school buses, dump trucks, etc. A portion of the funds will be available for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

If your group, city, or region is interested in learning more about the Volkswagen Settlement, please contact Stephanie Thomas at [email protected] to learn about upcoming community meetings.

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Map of air monitoring sites in Austin. Light blue sites monitor for ozone.

On June 12, Governor Greg Abbott signed a $217 billion budget for Texas into law. Abbott also exercised line-item vetoes to eliminate $120 million from the budget. Among those cuts were $87 million for the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, a voluntary program that helps low-income Texans replace their old, polluting vehicles with newer ones.

Continuing the assault on clean air, Abbott also cut $6 million for air quality planning in certain areas of the state (see pdf p. 5). The governor’s comment on this funding cut is worth quoting in full, beginning with the item vetoed and then the comment in italics:

  1. Air Quality Planning. Amounts appropriated above include $6,000,500 for the biennium out of the Clean Air Account No. 151 in Strategy A.1.1, Air Quality Assessment and Planning, for air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas during the 2016 17 biennium and as approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These areas may include Waco, El Paso, Beaumont, Austin, Corpus Christi, Granbury, Killeen Temple, Longview Tyler Marshall, San Antonio, and Victoria. These activities may be carried out through interlocal agreements and may include: identifying, inventorying, and monitoring of pollution levels; modeling pollution levels; and the identification, quantification, implementation of appropriate locally enforceable pollution reduction controls; and the submission of work plans to be submitted to the TCEQ. The TCEQ shall allocate $350,000 to each area and the remaining funds to each area based on population in excess of 350,000. The grant recipients shall channel the funds to those projects most useful for the State Implementation Plan (SIP).

This program funds, among other items, bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs in near non-attainment areas, which can be funded at the local government level. Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.

This is an unfortunate description of air quality planning activities and of the purpose of the Clean Air Account itself. So what are “air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas”?

Ozone is a harmful pollutant that is linked to everything from asthma attacks and difficulty breathing to heart attacks, stroke, and premature death. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through the mixing of other pollutants that are emitted by vehicles and industrial sources such as refineries. There are two areas of the state—Houston, and Dallas—that do not meet the federal air pollution standards for ozone. These are our “nonattainment” areas. There are many other areas in the state—including San Antonio and Austin—that do meet the federal ozone standard but still have numerous bad ozone days throughout the year. These areas, especially San Antonio, risk worsening air quality and an eventual “nonattainment designation” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Such a designation would subject the area to decades of regulation and costs that could reach the billions.

All of us have seen the ozone action day announcements.  Those alert at-risk citizens (like children, the elderly and those who have certain health risks) to curtail their outside exposure to mitigate the negative health impacts.  Local air quality monitors are what alert us to those dangers.

In order to keep the “near-nonattainment” areas clean and healthy (and to avoid the federal designation), Texas appropriates several million dollars for air quality planning activities. This money enables these areas to participate in programs like the ozone Early Action Compact. So far, these programs have been successful, though San Antonio may inevitably face a nonattainment designation as it grows.

Surely Governor Abbott understands the importance and success of these air quality planning activities. Describing the program as consisting of “bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs” is an obvious straw man. Bicycle and carpooling programs—while important in their own right—are not all that goes into air quality planning.

Air quality planners in Houston demonstrate how that city’s air monitors operate.

In Austin, for example, the city maintains eight ozone monitors in addition to the two maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These additional monitors help with air quality forecasting. They also help us to better understand large-scale impacts on air quality to our region by sources such as the Fayette power plant to the southeast, or Dallas to the north.

San Antonio just announced that it will shut down six ozone air monitors and lay off four staff members in response to the governor’s cuts. This is truly unfortunate for the people affected and for air quality monitoring and pollution prevention. If data is never collected, the ability to paint long-term pictures and identify trends in air pollution is lost for that time period. San Antonio may one day refund its program, but its former employees will have moved on, and the data will have been lost forever.

On the same day, San Antonio made this announcement, the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition in Austin held an emergency meeting to discuss how it would respond to the proposed funding cuts. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) has asked its member counties and cities to consider an additional financial contribution to support ongoing air quality planning activities in Austin. CAPCOG proposed tiered levels of funding that would alternatively fund more or less the region’s activities.

At the meeting, CAPCOG members seemed to understand the importance of a funding level that would keep all staff in place and all air monitors active. Cuts will definitely have to be made (to, for example, the regular maintenance schedule for those monitors) but if CAPCOG’s members do approve the appropriate tier of funding, then air quality planning programs in Austin will remain largely intact.

We hope that Austin is able to continue its important work by keeping Austinites safe from dangerous ozone pollution. Governor Greg Abbott may not recognize the importance of this work right now, but we hope that he does some day and that these shortsighted cuts do not continue.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The 85th Legislature gave all Texans a surprising bit of good news when they extended the programs for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), which was set to expire in 2019.

TERP is the second largest air pollution reduction program in Texas, and since its inception in 2001 it has become the most cost-effective way to reduce air pollution in the state.

Only hours before the final deadline to pass a “Conference Committee Report,” the Texas Legislature approved SB 1731, which included an amendment to reform and expand TERP. In response, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Environmental Defense Fund — who have supported and worked with legislators and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2001 on TERP implementation — praised lawmakers for their efforts, but issued a warning: the Legislature must actually appropriate the money now.

“We salute the Texas Legislature for extending and expanding TERP programs so that Texas actually complies with EPA’s health-based standards for ozone pollution in our major cities,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “However, the Legislature failed to extend the fees that pay for the program, and the budget bill actually cut appropriations for TERP by some $80 million over two years, subject to a possible adjustment by the Legislative Budget Board. This will need to be fixed for the program to work as it should.”

Recent polling has found that TERP has strong support in Houston, where air pollution is a constant problem. “We’re glad that the Legislature responded to the concerns of Houstonians,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Public Citizen Texas office. “One of the major improvements for TERP under SB 1731 is the provision to allow more money to be spent in rail yards and port yards, where we have the greatest air pollution concentrations,” he added.

“We’re pleased that TERP has been extended and now includes modifications that will allow more cost-effective projects at ports,” said Christina Wolfe, Manager, Air Quality, Port and Freight Facilities at the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund. “There is plenty of work ahead of us to ensure that all Texans breathe healthy air, so we appreciate the Texas Legislature taking this first step in recognizing the importance of TERP. Now we need them to ensure the programs are funded.”

The bill to extend and expand the program had a somewhat tortured history. After passing the Senate early in the session, SB 26 by Craig Estes (R- Wichita Falls) was then referred to the House Committee on Environmental Regulation. There, clean air advocates — which included environmental groups like EDF, Sierra Club and Public Citizen, and industry groups like the Texas Chemical Council, the Texas Association of Business and electric utilities — worked with Chairman Joe Pickett (D – El Paso), Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston) and Rep. Tony Dale (R- Round Rock) to craft a revised version of SB 26, which put more emphasis on the most cost-effective programs, including the revised Seaport and Rail Yards program to clean up pollution from equipment at our ports and rail yards.

However, the House version of SB 26 was put late on the calendar and the House of Representatives did not get to the bill when the deadline of midnight occurred on May 23rd. Then, versions of SB 26 were added to three other bills as amendments, though two of them were not taken up. Finally, on May 29th, at approximately 9:30 PM, both houses passed the TERP bill as part of SB 1731 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).

While the groups behind the TERP legislation were happy with the passage SB 1731, some last-minute confusion on the budget made it unclear how much TERP is actually funded for the next two years. During last-minute budget negotiations, TERP funding was cut from approximately $118 million per year to $78 million per year, and a contingency rider that was supposed to restore funding if a TERP bill passed was not in the final version of the budget.

In addition, separate legislation to extend the six fees that actually fund TERP did not pass, meaning the Legislature will need to come back in 2019 to extend them if the programs are to continue.

“We call on Governor Abbot to not only sign SB 1731 into law, but call back the Legislative Budget Board to adjust the budget to reflect its passage and return the nearly $40 million a year that was cut to fund these new programs,” added Reed. “Ultimately, the Legislature is going to have to decide how important it is to get the dirty air in our cities cleaned up and extend the fees — and spend the revenues — to help our children, the elderly and those with asthma to be able to breathe clean air.”

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Knowing whether to run or hide is a fundamental survival mechanism that Texans living near chemical plants and refineries know too well.

But it can be impossible to make the right decision without accurate and timely information. Is it safe to go outside? Is it safe to “shelter in place” in the nearest building? Is evacuation the only safe option?

The Legislature is holding a public hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee on a proposed law to help Texans get the critical information they need when toxic chemicals are released into our air and water.  The hearing is in the Texas Capitol Extension Room, E1.026 on Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 AM

Urge the Legislature to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

Ask the House Environmental Regulation Committee to support HB 1927.

The legislation, HB 1927, would establish a system to alert neighboring communities when a facility releases toxic chemicals.

People in the affected area would get notices on their phones about the chemicals released, what direction they are moving and how to stay safe.

The Toxic Alert Bill directs the State Emergency Response Commission to develop a statewide system to inform the public of chemical emergencies in a timely manner using a multi-media
approach, including traditional media, social media, and wireless emergency alerts.

This statewide system will eliminate patchwork local approaches and relieve local governments of the burden of developing and maintaining their own systems. Residents will be directed to a hyperlink, which will provide:

  • The geographic area impacted by the release
  • Information on symptoms that could require emergency medical treatment,
  • Directionality of plume movement,
  • The chemicals involved in and toxicity of the release,
    and
  • Instructions for protection from exposure to the release.

Just like the Amber Alerts for missing persons and emergency weather alerts available on our phones, the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System should be available to keep our communities safe.

A recent poll of Houston area residents shows that most people are concerned about air pollution and its impact on vulnerable populations. Furthermore, 92% support the creation of a public notification system similar to Amber alerts for leaks of hazardous chemicals. These alerts would warn residents via cellular phone of incidents and let them know what action to take to keep safe.
According to an investigative report published by the Houston Chronicle in 2016, an incident involving hazardous materials in the Houston area occurs about every six weeks.  Nationally, there have been more than 93 incidents involving hazardous chemicals since late 2015, killing 7 and injuring 573 people.

As you can see from the list and map below, the folks in the Houston area are more aware of the issue because of the frequency of such events, but you can see that other parts of the state also experience these types of toxic emergencies.

  • Oct. 2011:   Massive chemical fire at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Schoolchildren and neighbors evacuated.
  • Nov. 2012: Massive explosion & chemical fire at Nexeo chemical plant, Garland. Local area evacuated.
  • Apr. 2013: Chemical fire at East Texas Ag Supply, Athens. Hundreds of people evacuated.
  • May. 2014: Massive explosion & chemical fire at West Fertilizer, Co., West. Fifteen people dead and 160 injured.
  • Jan. 2015: Chlorine Spill at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Employees and neighbors evacuated.
  • Apr. 2015: Train derailment carrying flammable chemicals, Longview. Neighbors evacuated.
  • Aug. 2015: Massive fire at Century Industrial Coatings, Jacksonville. A neighboring business evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion and fire at water treatment plant, Midland. One person dead, local residents evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion at PeroxyChem, Pasadena. One person dead, three others injured.
  • Mar. 2016: Explosion at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. One person burned.
  • Apr. 2016: Explosion at LyondellBasell, SE Houston. Shelter in-place in SE Houston, including Chavez H.S., Deady Middle School, and Rucker Elementary School.
  • May 2016: Fire and chemical release in Spring Branch. Shelter-in-place. Fish, turtles, snakes, and frogs die from chemical spill.
  • Jun. 2016: Chemical leak & fire, Mont Belvieu. Dozens of people evacuated from their homes.
  • Jul. 2016: Asphalt fire, Century Asphalt Plant, Burnet. Dozens of residents evacuated.
  • Jul. 2016: Propylene leak, ExxonMobil Pipeline, Baytown. Local evacuation and shelter-in-place for nearby community.
  • Jul. 2016: Chemical Release at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. Heavy black smoke and sulfur dioxide release, shelter-in-place for Galena Park residents.
  • Aug. 2016: Explosion at Voluntary Purchasing Group, Bonham, woke up neighbors. A second explosion one month later injured 2 workers.
  • Aug. 2016: Fire at Hexion in Deer Park, shelter-in-place for neighborhoods in Deer Park.
  • Sept 2016: Chemical spill in Willow Marsh Bayou, Beaumont. Local shelter-in-place, killed over 1,400 fish, snakes, turtles, racoons, and birds.
  • Dec. 2016: A chemical leak contaminated the drinking water supply for Corpus Christi. A water ban was in effect for nearly 4 days, 7 unconfirmed illnesses associated with the drinking water.
  • Jan. 2017: Naphtha overfill at tank at Valero Texas City Refinery. Residents issues. No shelter in place alert was sent because “the incident happened in the middle of the night.”
  • Jan. 2017: Chemical fire and spill, El Paso. Residents complain to TCEQ amidst concerns of respiratory issues.
  • Mar 2017: Sodium hydrosulfide spill, Brownsville. One injured, evacuation downtown.

In 2014, Iowa implement the Alert Iowa System. Counties that did not already have a system like this in place could opt-in to the statewide system to ensure that Iowans are protected from severe weather, chemical spill, and other potential disasters. The statewide system in Iowa costs about $300,000 per year.

Texas already has a system in place that can send out these type of alerts. The system proposed here is designed to work with OEMs to support them based on their needs. The intention is not for the statewide system to override functional systems already in place.

If such a system saved lives or reduced job and school absenteeism as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, it would be well worth the cost of extending our existing technology to put in place a toxic chemical emergency system.  Urge your Legislator to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

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UPDATE: Happening now in Houston, until 8pm CT.  Go on Facebook to TEJAS’s page to watch.

https://www.facebook.com/TejasBarrios/videos/

Date:           Thursday, 11/17/2016
Location:  Hartman Community Center, 9311 East Ave. P. Houston, TX 77012
Time:          2:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Join HPCC public health advocates at an EPA hearing about toxic air pollution from petroleum refineries!

(En español, mira aquí: http://airalliancehouston.org/wp-content/uploads/Spanish-EPA-Hearing-Flier.pdf)

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing on the reconsideration of the Refinery Sector Rule for which EPA did not provide adequate opportunity for notice and comment. This rulemaking is the result of a lawsuit filed by Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Community In-Power and Development Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who are collectively represented by Earthjustice.

This is is our only chance to tell EPA we are concerned about pollution from oil refineries and its impact on our health. This is the only public hearing EPA will hold anywhere in the country, and public comment will be taken for six hours, from 2-8 pm. We’d like EPA to hear from us and our allies in refinery communities throughout the entire hearing, so please sign up to speak today.

Join us in telling EPA:

  • Our health suffers from pollution from oil refineries.
  • Our children are particularly at risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects our lives where we live, work, and play.

Together we can demand a stronger rule to protect communities from air pollution. The refining industry must cut pollution by:

  • Reducing emissions from flares and pressure relief devices.
  • Eliminate pollution exemptions for malfunction and force majeure events.
  • Require fenceline monitoring at all times.

Air Alliance Houston will have fact sheets and talking points available at the hearing.
If you would like to present oral testimony at the hearing, please complete this form or notify Ms. Virginia Hunt no later than November 15, 2016, by email: [email protected] (preferred); or by telephone: (919) 541-0832.
Space will also be available that day if time slots are not all filled, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Basic background on key issues from EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/petroleum-refinery-sector-reconsideration-october-2016
Sign the Earthjustice petition: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/community-and-environmental-groups-sue-the-epa-and-call-on-the-agency-to-remove-free-pass-to-pollute-from

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No Idling Sign photo from SetonBexar County has joined the other 44 communities in the state of Texas limiting idling by heavy vehicles. The primary reasoning for the ordinance to try to avoid ground level ozone levels that warrant non-attainment status for the county by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from vehicles combine with volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air to create ground level ozone, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Non-attainment status refers to “any area that does not meet (or that contributes to ambient air quality in a nearby area that does not meet) the national primary or secondary ambient air quality standard for the pollutant.” The county’s decision to limit emissions via prohibiting idling is logical because the decision limits emissions from those passing through the county rather than limiting emissions by its residents. Non-attainment status is established by the Clean Air Act and has multiple consequences that act as incentive to reduce ozone levels that affect the health of a county’s citizens. Consequences include loss of federal highway funding and EPA oversight over air pollution permits. While this measure is not expected to keep Bexar County in compliance once the new ground level ozone standard goes into effect, it will help.

Trucks idling -Idling limits for heavy vehicles are also important because most of them are diesel fueled and produce particulate mater that is harmful to health. The very small particles in diesel exhaust are composed of elemental carbon, which absorbs other compounds and caries them deep into your lungs. Diesel particulate matter is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is potential human carcinogen.

The Bexar County decision follows after Houston, the state’s largest city, approved a similar ordinance that limits vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds to five minutes of idling. Heavy vehicles include semi-trailer trucks and school buses. Idling school buses are of particular concern because children are especially vulnerable to the impacts from diesel exhaust.  The Bexar County court order allows buses to idle for up to 30 minutes though. The order also includes many other exemptions and should be revisited in the future to better protect public health.

Idling limitations are protected by the Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule, established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The rule limits the idling of heavy vehicles of jurisdictions that have signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the TECQ for the local enforcement of idling restrictions. The Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule was established in 2005 and with the addition of Bexar County, 45 communities have adopted idling limitations. The city of San Antonio is also set approve a similar measure later this month.

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Republicans have been waging a war against public health regulations in the United States for longer than I’ve been alive. One of the latest worrisome developments in this trend is the push-back from many conservative states, Texas among them, against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standards regarding ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog.

When the last revision of ozone standards was completed in 2008, the standard, at 75 parts per billion (ppb), was set to allow much higher levels of pollution than many environmental and public safety groups felt was necessary to protect the public well-being. The panel in charge of advising the EPA on the new standard, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), unanimously recommended a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. However, the Administrator of the EPA at the time was appointed by President Bush, served conservative interests, and chose to adopt 75 ppb instead.

Now, thankfully, under the new regulations finalized in October of 2015, states will have to meet a standard of 70 ppb after the CASAC again recommended a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. With the difficult political climate right now, it’s clear the EPA believed that adopting the least aggressive option while still improving public health would meet with the least resistance. However, it has met considerable resistance from the current Congress, as 10 bills have been introduced attempting to delay the implementation of these standards, with some bills even attempting to prohibit funding the EPA.

The estimated cost of implementing the new 70 ppb standard is $1.4 billion, whereas choosing a standard of 65 ppb would have raised the cost of implementation to $16 billion. States have until 2020 to reach 70 ppb, with the most polluted areas allowed as long until 2037 to reach attainment. This should be a win for Republicans, so it’s difficult to understand the current rhetoric being thrown around by those who are objecting to the new standard. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed in a press release “The EPA’s new ozone rule is not supported by scientific data” and then went on to complain that it will require “costly new regulations that will harm our economy and kill jobs.”

These are ridiculous assertions. Here’s why:

Firstly, a brief outline of the process for reviewing Ozone NAAQS (standards) should be enough to refute the claim that there is no science behind the rule: Federal EPA scientists reviewed 2,300 scientific studies to complete the preliminary Integrated Science Assessment. After the EPA prepared a Risk and Exposure Assessment to identify at-risk populations and health impacts, a Policy Assessment summarized the information in the previous two documents and provide the EPA Administrator with policy options.

Then, as required under the Clean Air Act, an independent scientific advisory panel, the CASAC, was formed to review the entire process. The panel members are generally from academia and private research institutions. Leading experts on health and environmental effects of specific pollutants are then regularly called in to supplement the panel’s considerable scientific knowledge.
Secondly, the health benefits were estimated between $2.9 billion and $5.9 billion, clearly outweighing the $1.4 billion cost. The projected health benefits come in the form of less heart and lung diseases and a reduction in premature deaths. Most notably, 320 to 660 premature deaths could be avoided with adoption of these new regulations, which account for 94 to 98 percent of the EPA’s total monetized benefits of the new standards.

child_inhalerUnder the new standards we can prevent:
• 11,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms
• 230,000 cases of exacerbated asthma
• 188,000 days when people miss school or work from illness related to smog
• 340 cases of acute bronchitis
• 960 hospital admissions and emergency room visits

To say that these costly regulations will not be worth the benefits is to say that one does not care about or value human life or quality of human life.

Republicans have been fighting for the right to disregard human life, environmental health and EPA regulations for a long time. Most recently, the 112th Congress attempted to pass legislation that would have required the EPA to take costs into consideration when setting standards. As it is now, the EPA is supposed to place public and environmental health above economic costs. The current Congress has again introduced legislation requiring the EPA to take costs into account when setting future standards.

In their 2015 brief on the new Ozone NAAQs, the Congressional Research Service highlights eight of the ten plus bills that have been introduced by the current Congress that attempt to delay or prevent implementation of the new standards. Texas is spearheading the effort to subvert the EPA, with four of the highlighted bills coming from Texas Representatives. All the eight bills are backed by Republicans. North Texas Representative Sam Johnson, introduced legislation that would “provide no funds made available under any act may be used by EPA to implement any ozone standard.” On top of that, Texas is suing the EPA, in an attempt to overturn the new ozone standards.  It is clear that this lawsuit and these many legislative attacks are acts of Republican disbelief in science and disregard for public health.

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TERP logo

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) is the most cost effective way to reduce mobile source air pollution and comply with current and upcoming federal standards for ground level ozone (smog). The Texas Legislature should appropriate all the money that is collected from Texas taxpayers for this purpose to the TERP fund, not let it sit unused in an account. Please call the State Budget Conference Committee leaders (contact information below) to request additional funding for this successful program.

What’s TERP?

TERP, established by the legislature in 2001, collects fees to provide voluntary financial incentives to upgrade or replace older polluting heavy-duty vehicles, off-road equipment, locomotives, marine vessels, and stationary equipment with much cleaner models. The primary goal of the program is to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions which react with volatile organic compounds (VOC) in sunlight on hot days to form ground level ozone. Reducing NOx emissions from these sources is less costly than getting similar reductions from major industrial sources.

Why Reduce Smog?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for 6 major pollutants. States monitor air quality and develop state implementation plans (SIPs) to improve air quality meet these standards in areas that currently do not. The Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and El Paso metropolitan areas, encompassing 22 counties in Texas, have unhealthy air and do not meet the ground level ozone NAAQS. Non-attainment of these standards can result in federal sanctions impacting the time, cost, and ability for economic growth of large industry, and some transportation projects. That’s on top of the significant health impacts of breathing smog, in the form of asthma and other respiratory illnesses that most severely impact children and the elderly.

The TERP program spurs new technology development and helps create jobs.

Funding TERP

The TERP benefits to Texans have been restricted by not fully appropriating the funds in the TERP account. This year, Texas missed an opportunity to fund more than $100 million in projects to clean up the air because of the lack of appropriations of the TERP funds. By the end of 2015, the TERP account is expected to have an unappropriated balance greater than $1 billion.

The legislature needs to prioritize the additional spending of TERP revenues for their intended purpose when considering its spending cap. TERP funds reduce far more air pollution than any other road or highway project and has broad support – including Texas business associations; petroleum, chemical, manufacturing and natural gas industries; environmental groups; local governments; and many others. Local governments and councils of governments need compliance with clean air standards and “transportation conformity” to get federal funding to build new roads.

Why Now?

Full expenditure of the TERP funds will be even more important in the coming year as the EPA has proposed to lower its ground level ozone standard this summer from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65-70 ppb. If the new lower ground level ozone standard is adopted, many more counties in Texas will likely be designated as nonattainment areas. TERP is the most cost effective way to get ahead of the game to avoid restrictions that are detrimental to economic development, transportation projects, and the growth of Texas.

Take Action

Please call Senator Nelson and Representative Otto and ask them for additional TERP appropriations in Article VI of the state budget. When you call Senator Nelson and Representative Otto, who lead the State Budget Conference Committee, please tell them that the TERP appropriation is needed now to improve the health of our air and to avoid additional EPA nonattainment designations.

Representative John Otto, Chairman House Appropriations
Phone: (512) 463-0570
Fax: (512) 463-0315
Chief of Staff: Nikki Cobb, 512-463-0570

Senator Jane Nelson, Chairwoman Senate Finance
Phone: (512) 463-0112
Fax: (512) 463-9889
Chief of Staff: Dave Nelson, 512-463-0112

If you have time and to call the rest of the State Budget Conference Committee members:

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China's worsening air pollution has exacted a significant economic toll, grounding flights, closing highways and keeping tourists at home. Photograph from STR/AFP/Getty Images

China’s worsening air pollution has exacted a significant economic toll, grounding flights, closing highways and keeping tourists at home. Photograph from STR/AFP/Getty Images

Back in November 2014, America and China joined hands to fight global climate change, including a plan to decrease China’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Although there has been a lot of doubt about their plan, China has shown results. According to the China Coal Industry Association, China’s coal production decreased by 2.5% last year, marking the first reduction that the country has seen in years.

As the world’s primary emitter of greenhouse gases, the Republic of China’s decision to create new environmental policies allows China to be a global example in leading the way to reduce CO2 emissions. The global negotiations are also receiving praise because of their economic benefits. The solar power market has seen increases since November, further strengthening industrial market growth and enhancing public health.

However, a recent measure of Beijing’s Air Quality Index brings concerns about the toxic air the Chinese are breathing. Despite the country’s efforts to fight pollution, the consequences of being the world’s number one consumer of coal has caused Beijing to experience another airpocalypse just a few weeks ago. The city reached smog-levels that were, literally, off the charts.

A recent Greenpeace study stated that most cities in China are “failing to meet China’s own national standards”, regardless of the country’s initiatives to combat pollution. Additionally, a Peking University and Greenpeace study shows that more than 200 thousand Chinese could die from pollution-related diseases if there is no further caution taken by the Chinese government. The recent “airpocalypse” further raised the concerns of the Chinese government, who are more driven to push the country to continue its initiatives to combat climate change.

The city’s Air Quality Index of over 600 and new Greenpeace studies should stand to be an example to the rest of the world. The high levels of coal consumption, power plants, and fracking that China has experienced in less than a decade has proved to be dangerous. Although the country is taking action now, the effects evidently will linger for a long time. As the United States continues its high consumption of coal, building of power plants, and fracking, it is important to look at China as an example and as a reminder that we need to start taking action before it is too late.

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ozone-moleculeThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to reclassify the Dallas-Fort Worth area (DFW) as being in severe nonattainment of the original 8-hour ozone standard of 84 parts per billion. The proposal will be published for public comment in the Federal Register in seven to 10 days. Upon publication, a 30-day public comment period will begin.

EPA has been coordinating closely with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), North Central Texas Council of Governments, elected officials and statewide environmental organizations in preparation for today’s proposed action. While DFW’s air quality has steadily improved as its population grows, the area missed a June 2013 deadline to attain the 1997 ozone standard. Because the area did not meet the deadline of June 15, 2013, to attain the 1997 standard, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to reclassify DFW as a severe nonattainment area.

TCEQ has developed a clean air plan for the revised 2008 ozone standard and is expected to submit that plan to EPA for review by July 2015. A copy of the proposed plan is publicly available – click here to access it .

DFW air quality has significantly improved over the last decade. Ten years ago, the 8-hour average was 98 parts per billion (ppb); the preliminary value for 2010-2014 is 81 ppb. During that time, DFW has also been among the fastest-growing regions in the country. The area’s achievement came through a combination of federal measures to clean up fuels and reduce emissions from engines, state measures to reduce emissions from stationary sources, and efforts of the public during ozone season—including using public transport, refueling in the evenings, and properly maintaining their vehicles.

Ground-level ozone is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. In DFW, mobile sources such as cars and trucks are the biggest emitters of ozone “ingredients.” Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground-level ozone contributes to the formation of smog, and can harm sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

Click here to read more about ground-level ozone and its adverse health effects:

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