Dallas joins the fight for clean air

TCE Blog
Corey Troiani, DFW Program Director

In a rare unanimous vote, the Dallas City Council passed a resolution to protect its citizens from the historically poor air quality in our region. Since 1991, the North Texas region has continuously failed federal air quality standards for ozone and smog pollution. The Dallas resolution follows a flurry of clean air advocacy from elected officials representing the region.

Photo of smog over Dallas (2014 File Photo Dallas Morning News/Nathan Hunsinger)

Last month, the Dallas County Commissioners Court approved a similar ozone-crackdown resolution. This came after a joint letter from U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasely to the EPA urging the federal agency to reign in the state’s ozone plan. For years, Texas’ state environmental agency (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or TCEQ) has made inadequate plans to address smog and ozone levels in our region. Many clean air advocates criticize the state agency for being too soft and understating or even denying the well-known links between air pollution and human health impacts.

Scientists have known for years that ozone pollution is linked with respiratory illnesses like asthma that contribute to missed days of school, loss of productivity at work, and hospitalization. While the state agency is tasked with regulating and reducing air pollution in Texas, one of their lead scientists dismisses the health concerns of ozone – in fact, he argues that reducing ozone pollution will actually be more harmful to our health! The state’s toxicologist, Dr. Michael Honeycutt, has made some truly incredible claims:

“…lowering ozone concentrations would actually result in more deaths in some cities.”

“Since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, we… are rarely exposed to significant levels of ozone.”

I don’t know about him, but the majority of our community organizers spend several hours outdoors during the hottest and sometimes worst air quality days of the year, and we don’t think less air pollution is bad for our health.

The good news is, Dallas officials aren’t buying it either. By an undivided 15-0 vote, the Dallas City Council and Mayor voted to strengthen enforcement on the Clean Air Act, reduce pollution from large polluting facilities, and advocate for state laws that would help grow residential solar power production.

Texas Campaign for the Environment, along with ally organizations and individuals, testified in support of the resolution championed by Council member Sandy Greyson. We compared industrial pollution to driving around in a car without modern pollution controls.

Dallas clear air resolution vote 6-15-16“If I did that and I got caught, I would be fined. And if I continued to do that for 25 years, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d probably be in jail.”

This marks an important victory for air breathers and advocates in North Texas. While we celebrate this positive step, we will also be working to hold the state environment agency accountable to enforcing laws that protect public health, the environment, and our economy during the upcoming legislative session in Austin.

Here’s something you can do right now to help us take another important step in the right direction: Write a short letter to the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas production, to tighten their pollution enforcement as well. An official report for state lawmakers found that the Railroad Commission enforced only 16% of over 60,000 violations found at oil and gas well sites around the state. Texas regulators could do a whole lot better reigning in lawbreakers and protecting the citizens they are supposed to serve. Send your message today!


Corey Troiani
DFW Program Director

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings urges state to stop playing ‘game of chicken’ with feds over air pollution

Dallas Morning News – The Scoop Blog
by Jeff Mosier, Twitter: @jeffmosier
Original article here

The Dallas City Council urged the state Wednesday to strengthen its plan to fight ozone pollution, which has been called inadequate by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The resolution was the latest in a campaign by environmental activists to build support for either stronger action by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or intervention by the EPA. Ozone aggravates lung diseases, increases asthma attacks and can contribute to or cause other respiratory problems.

The TCEQ presented its preliminary ozone reduction plan to the EPA but federal officials said it doesn’t do enough. The final plan is due to the federal government in July.

Dr. Robert Haley of Dallas speaks at a news conference outside an Arlington hearing on an EPA proposal to strengthen the national standard on ozone. (Dallas Morning News, File Photo/Staff)
Dr. Robert Haley of Dallas speaks at a news conference outside an Arlington hearing on an EPA proposal to strengthen the national standard on ozone. (Dallas Morning News, File Photo/Staff)

Mayor Mike Rawlings said the city is caught in a fight between the TCEQ and EPA. And that dispute, he said, has the potential to harm the local economy.

“We want the state to not play a game of chicken with the EPA,” he said. “Often, we do not get caught up in national politics, but this is one we’re getting caught up in a little bit.”

The risks “potentially include the denial of air permits for new businesses in the region, limiting the approval of the expansion of current air permits for businesses in the region, and the withholding of federal highway funds,” according to the city.

Rawlings said EPA officials have told them they appreciate the City Council addressing the issue.

A letter from several industry groups said the proposals endorsed by the city “would impose significant costs without providing an equivalent level of air quality benefits. State data show that ozone levels are not driven primarily or even significantly by oil and natural gas activity in the Barnett Shale region.”

The statement pointed to various reports saying the oil and gas industry has only a small impact on ozone production compared with mobile sources, such as car, trucks and airplanes. The letter was signed by officials from the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Barnett Shale Energy Education Council and the Texas Oil & Gas Association.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has been out of a compliance with ozone standards since 1991. The EPA said the state’s preliminary plan wouldn’t get the region under the 75 parts per billion limit. The area’s ozone pollution has dropped over the years but not enough to keep up with lower federal standards.

Environmentalists have argued that any solution to the region’s air problems must include reducing emissions from cement plants in Midlothian and several coal plants outside this region. They are demanding decreases in the emissions from natural gas production facilities.

TCEQ officials disagreed and said in a written statement that their plan accounted for the “relatively small impact of DFW area cement kilns and oil and gas operations as well as the power plants outside the DFW, and the high costs of requiring further emission reductions from these sources.”

A statement from Luminant, which owns nearby coal plants, also made the same argument that vehicle traffic was the overwhelming contributor to the ozone levels.

“We understand the City Council wanting to make a statement on clean air,” said company spokesman Brad Watson in a written statement. “Luminant shares the desire for clean air and that’s why all our power plants meet or exceed the rules and laws of our state and nation on emissions.”

Dallas County commissioners voted 3-2 last month to approve an ozone-crackdown resolution. That happened shortly after U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, sent a joint letter to the EPA criticizing the TCEQ’s ozone plan.

Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, said he has a problem with the federal government setting a national ozone standard.

“That might be good for parts of the country that aren’t in fast-growth mode,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

The TCEQ also pointed out that “progress toward attainment of the ozone standard from 2000 through 2015 has been significant, especially given that the DFW area population increased approximately 35 percent during this time period.”

And even though Texas is the nation’s top wind energy producer, Mills said renewable sources aren’t feasible now as the state’s primary means of generating electricity.

The speakers and council members at Wednesday’s meeting were united in support for a reduction in ozone.

Tamara Bounds, an air quality activist with Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, said local asthma rates are much higher than the national average and a burden on many. She said it’s time for the state to stop fighting air quality advances.

“TCEQ has failed us for the last 20 years,” she told the council Wednesday. “And they continue to fail us.”

Jim Schermbeck, head of Downwinders at Risk and longtime air quality crusader, pointed out to the council that last week, this region had its worst smog day since 2013.

Corey Troiani, local program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, likened industrial pollution to cars driving around without pollution controls.

“If I did that and I got caught, I would be fined,” he said. “And if I continued to do that for 25 years, correct if I’m wrong, but I’d probably be in jail.”

Although the vote was unanimous, the tone of comments from council members varied widely.

There was harsh criticism of the TCEQ as being ineffective and likening its approach to the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. There was also more moderate language urging the state to cooperate with the EPA.

Council member Philip Kingston, who made the 1984 comparison, called the TCEQ a “multi-decade embarrassment for the state of Texas.”

“It’s sad in a way that we have to do this,” he said, referring to the resolution.

Jennifer Staubach Gates, a council member and registered nurse, was also supportive of the resolution but more cautious. She said tougher regulations could drive up energy costs but could potentially lower health care costs.

“This issue does have an economic impact,” she said, “and I think we need to realize that.”