Monthly Archives: July 2012

No Idling Resolution: State And Local Programs Cut Vehicle Emissions & Costs At The Pump

Did you know that emissions from transportation contribute up to half of the air pollution in some parts of Texas?  These emissions, combined with point and area sources of emissions, contribute to the region’s non-attainment status.  Areas including Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Beaumont/Port Arthur, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Tyler, and Victoria all have air quality issues that pose risks to public health.

Credit: HGAC

To help mitigate emissions from the transportation sector, a number of state and regional agencies have taken part in developing initiatives to cut this pollution. One such initiative is the no-idling resolution which recently passed by the Houston Galveston Area Council (HGAC), a resolution similar to one that has been adopted by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). The resolution states that a vehicle should not idle more than 5 minutes. To encourage Houston area businesses, churches, and hospitals to participate, HGAC is offering free “no-idling” signs.

The resolutions adopted by HGAC and NCTCOG were necessary to remind individuals that reducing idling from all vehicles, including those in the light duty sector, are important. The Vehicle Idling Restrictions rule from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has already placed idling limits on gasoline and diesel-powered engines of heavy-duty motor vehicles to no more than five minutes. On July 20, 2011, TCEQ updated the Motor Vehicle Idling Limitations, which allowed for year round enforcement of the rule. TCEQ has also administered an Emissions Reduction Incentive Grants (ERIG) Program and the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) that help offset costs for vehicle replacement or retrofitting for heavy-duty vehicles and provide new financial incentives with the overall goal to reduce emissions.

Another program adopted by the state of Texas is Drive Clean Across Texas, a campaign that started in 2001, which focuses on five steps to reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to air pollution, cut fuel use and increase vehicle efficiency:

  1. Maintain Your Vehicle
  2. Drive a Cleaner Vehicle
  3. Drive the Speed Limit
  4. Drive Less
  5. Avoid Idling

Maintenance of your vehicle includes following the manufacturers’ maintenance guide and ensuring regular oil and oil filter changes. Keeping a car or truck tuned can limit emissions and improve gas mileage up to four percent. It’s important to check tires for proper air pressure every month, which can improve gas mileage up to three percent. This not only helps improve the efficiency of an engine, but also extends the life of a car and can increase resale value.

Consider buying a hybrid or electric car for a low-emission, high-efficiency alternative.

Staying within the speed limit will burn less fuel and emit less harmful emissions. Gradually accelerate and decelerate to improve gas efficiency. Not only will this save gas, but it will also ensure safety.

Driving less can be accomplished by carpooling, biking, walking or using public transportation, if possible. Driving in traffic uses more gas and puts more harmful pollutants into the air. When an individual chooses to drive less, he or she avoids congestion, saves gas and is not contributing to pollution.

To avoid idling, one should park and go into restaurants instead of using the drive thru or turn off the car if he or she will be at a standstill for over a minute while in line.  Never “warm up” an engine, as modern vehicle engines do not require it.

TXDoT’s Drive Clean Across Texas campaign, along with the idling policies enacted by TCEQ, HGAC, and NCTCOG are all aimed at reducing air pollution and improving air quality for Texans. The amount of money and time dedicated to these policies and incentive programs are a testimony to how seemingly simple behaviors can contribute a great deal in offsetting carbon and other pollutants in Texas. As an added benefit, following the guidelines also helps drivers save money at the pump, all while ensuring air quality standards for their communities.

Posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Transportation| Comments closed

Transportation A Key Concern For Houston Officials Due To Anticipated Growth For Population And Economy

Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) released a report on expected urban growth and the role that transportation plays in metropolitan economies. Confirming numerous other studies, the “Gross Metropolitan Product and Critical Role of Transportation Infrastructure” report notes that Texas leads the nation for cities with the challenging combination of very large populations and growth rates that outpace the rest of the country. At the top of the list is Greater Houston, with a current population of 6.2 million and an expected 2012 economic growth rate of 3.5 percent. This is notably higher than the growth rates of other large metropolitan areas such as Chicago (1.2 percent), New York (1.8 percent), Atlanta (1.8 percent), and Los Angeles (1.7 percent). While this may be positive news for job growth and economic development in the Lone Star State, Houston’s already overburdened transportation system will face tremendous pressures.

At the same time that population and economic output is rising, public spending on transportation infrastructure is decreasing and congestion costs are increasing. In fact, Houston has been characterized as the 7th most congested city in the nation, with Houstonians paying an average of $1,322 a year in annual congestion costs.   This issue is exacerbated in Houston due to its increasingly important role as a transportation hub. The USCM report highlights the role of international trade in our nation’s economic growth and its dependence on our freight movement system. However, the report also expresses grave concerns about the current state of that congestion system and the funding needed to expand and improve transportation infrastructure. For example, the Port of Houston Authority is currently awaiting a response from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an application to dredge a portion of the Houston Ship Channel and therefore expand its Bayport Container Terminal. Funding for this project and related infrastructure development is still uncertain.

We need innovative thinking on behalf of our public and private sector leaders to accommodate a larger population and greater demand on transportation infrastructure. Stressors such as congestion costs and environmental impacts will be intensified without strategic mitigation policies. As Houston and the rest of Texas continue to grow at an extremely fast pace, EDF is committed to help ensure that needed development is sustainable for our economy and our environment.

Posted in Houston, Transportation| Comments closed

Court Upholds Sulfur Dioxide Standards

Thanks to last week’s federal appeals court decision, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health-based air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2) will stand firm.

These National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2 will improve health protections, especially for children, the elderly and individuals with asthma.

EDF Attorney Peter Zalzal praised the decision saying it “strongly affirms that EPA’s clean air protections addressing dangerous sulfur dioxide are firmly grounded in science and the law.”

EDF, along with the American Lung Association and attorneys at Earthjustice, intervened in a lawsuit to defend the standard against attacks from large industrial sources and several states. In rejecting the petitioners’ claims that this new SO2 standard is too stringent, the court noted “[t]he quotations [relied on by petitioners] only support petitioners’ arguments when taken out of their original context.” 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) expressed support of EPA’s new standards for SO2 emissions via comments released in February 2010. Though TCEQ recommended that results of “human data” should be weighted more than that of epidemiological studies and also noted concern for resources needed to follow the ruling, they stood firm with the EPA’s SO2 regulations.

Despite the TCEQ backing of EPA’s new SO2 standards, the State of Texas challenged the rule, citing concerns for how epidemiological and other health-related data was chosen and weighed, along with the necessity of computer modeling that would be needed for implementation.

The unanimous three-judge panel rejected that EPA "arbitrarily" chose epidemiological studies to warrant a tougher SO2 standard, as suggested by the petitioners.  Texas, in particular, has sued the federal government 17 times and the EPA at least six times in the last two years, not including this most recent challenge of the SO2 rule.

The Court also declined to hear other arguments on the grounds that they did not represent the agency’s final decision concerning implementation of the SO2 standards. 

The power plant industry releases the largest emissions of SO2, a highly reactive, toxic gas considered a precursor to particulate pollution and a huge public health concern.

Friday’s victory ensures that these public health measures will remain in place, providing American families with protections against harmful, short-term SO2 exposures.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ| Comments closed

MOMS: A Force To Be Reckoned With

(Credit: Mom's Clean Air Force)

When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts.  A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.  ~Sophia Loren

With the outpouring of support last year after a Texas Clean Air Matters post by mother-of-two Deedra Parrish, we knew that air pollution and its effects on children’s health struck an emotional chord among mothers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a national movement started months later has been so successful.

Next month marks the first year anniversary of Moms Clean Air Force and I’m happy to report that at 87,000 members and counting, the organization continues to gain ground raising parents’ awareness of important air quality issues.

Educating mothers and inspiring “naptime activism” while their babies sleep is the primary mission of this growing organization, which spreads the word through a content-rich website, social media, videos and field campaigning. Moms organize playground meetups, educational talks at daycare centers and schools, and even science fair activities teaching kids how the lungs work.

Co-Founder and Senior Director Dominique Browning says that members of this parent-based, non-partisan group are engaged and quite active. Because no politician wants to make a mother angry, she says, Washington tends to listen when moms speak. When the debate began heating up on mercury regulations, for example, Moms Clean Air Force members responded readily, sending more than 51,000 messages to senators and other elected officials.

How do they inspire such collective action? “We make it easy, we make it clear and we make it compelling,” Browning said. “We are focused entirely on clean air and make the connection with families: We bring the subject home.”

Being nonpartisan also helps propel the movement along. “I think that matters too,” she added. “We have born-again Christian conservatives writing about fetal health and Democratic field campaigners rallying community support.

“We talk about everything from mercury in breast milk to heat strokes during the kinds of intense heat waves characteristic of global warming. People see that there are many ways into this. And of course, we are appealing to new moms, and grandmothers, and anyone who wants to fight in honor of children.”

In Texas, Moms Clean Air Force Blogger Gina Carroll has a child with asthma and says that appealing to parents can be particularly effective in the large, urban region where she lives. “Houston is a hard nut to crack when it comes to clean air issues,” Carroll said. “Business rules here. However, there are some industry people who get it, and know if they clean up it’s better for them, their business and the community all around.”

Carroll says one of her primary goals has been to organize a regional, collective voice, especially for those who believed no one was listening. “From a mom’s perspective, the socio-racial disparities here are huge,” she said. “I’m getting really positive feedback from Houston mothers. Many thought they were battling their children’s asthma alone, with no idea how it had reached epidemic proportions here.”

Various Hollywood celebrities also help elevate the issues and profile the work of Moms Clean Air Force. Hollywood actress Julianne Moore created a moving video for the organization, as did Jessica Capshaw, Blythe Danner, Christina Applegate and more.  Moore’s video alone received more than 140,000 hits on YouTube. “That’s huge for an air pollution video,” Browning said. As well, members of the medical community continue to partner with the organization, including this month’s announcement of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We want alliances with doctors and nurses. These are the people moms and dads come into contact with and whom they trust.”

This fall, Moms Clean Air Force will launch a Texas ground campaign. “Field work is the opposite of an Internet campaign, because it’s personal,” Browning said. “Moms sit and talk with their senators, or handwrite letters explaining their concerns, but it perfectly complements our online work.

“Sometimes, being a good mother means being an engaged citizen. I think Texas moms have had enough of asthma, childhood leukemia, and all the other problems that come from breathing toxic air.”

Whether through online or personal outreach, we are pleased that the first year of Moms Clean Air Force has been so effective, and we stand ready as professional partners, giving a voice to moms everywhere concerned about air pollution.

Note: Moms Clean Air Force currently seeks someone to lead efforts in Texas. Contact Erin O’Sullivan at eosullivan@momscleanairforce.org. Moms Clean Air Force is a special project of Environmental Defense Fund, which leads its fundraising efforts.

Posted in Air Pollution| Comments closed

TERP: A Smart Program Helping To Bring Cleaner Air To Texas

Watching the news recently, we know that ozone season is in full swing this year as numerous counties around the state have exceeded health-based ozone concentrations– the magnitude of which the state hasn’t seen in a decade. Yesterday I testified before a Texas State House committee in support of one program in Texas that has been effective in addressing this issue and in reducing air pollution, including the pollutants that form ozone.

TERP is About Clean Air

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) is a smart program that provides market incentives for businesses and individuals to turn over their diesel engines at a faster pace than they would have otherwise. It was also created as a kind of trade-off for penalty measures that otherwise would have been implemented as part of the state’s air quality plan to meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. The penalty measures that the TERP program replaced included:

  • A limit on the use of construction and industrial equipment from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.; and,
  • A requirement that diesel-powered equipment over 50 hp be replaced with newer engines by a certain deadline.

Why The Focus On Diesel Engines?

Emissions from diesel engines are a certified health threat; the older the engine, the more polluting it is. The World Health Organization just this year classified diesel emissions as cancer causing and reinforced calls to reduce their emissions worldwide.

Heavy duty diesel engines traveled almost 700 million miles in Texas in 2010. Combined with our increasing population – up 20 percent in the last decade – and the expansion of facilities like those along the Port of Houston ship channel, programs like TERP take on even more significance as we continue seeking air pollution solutions.

What Makes TERP Special?

TERP is effective. Through August of 2011, TERP projects reduced over 171,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), or about 65 tons per day. This is 65 tons less harmful diesel pollution that Texans are breathing, and around 20 percent more NOx reductions than the program had originally anticipated.

TERP has provided co-benefits in reducing pollutants other than NOx. The TERP program has also funded the popular Clean Bus program, administered by TCEQ. Through the end of 2011, the Clean Bus Program has retrofitted over 6,000 buses and reduced 62 tons of particulate matter. As a result, almost one million Texas children have a cleaner ride to school.

TERP provides resources for innovation. TERP funds have been used to fund research and development projects that will help make the state a leader in developing new technologies while creating new business and industry in Texas. Alternative fueling stations funded by TERP will pave the way for the most innovative engines developed.

TERP replaces other measures that were considered unpopular. If the TERP program is discontinued, then the state will have to come up with additional measures to reduce ozone-causing pollutants. The same unpopular measures that were recommended prior to TERP adoption will be revisited.

TERP has potential to expand to cover additional counties. Only equipment operating for the majority of time within 42 specific counties has been eligible to receive TERP funds. As additional counties fall out of attainment with more protective health-based air quality standards, TERP eligibility can be expanded to provide resources for emission reduction projects.

More TERP Background

TERP was established by the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001, through the enactment of Senate Bill 5. The legislation defines the TERP program objective to reduce NOx emissions from older heavy-duty on-road vehicles and non-road equipment by providing grants and rebates for voluntary upgrades and replacements.

Since NOx is a primary precursor to the formation of ground-level ozone, the TERP program targets areas of Texas designated as nonattainment for ground-level ozone under the Federal Clean Air Act (FCAA), as well as near non-attainment areas and areas having an early action compact agreement to address ozone issues.

Lowering NOX emissions from TERP-eligible sources remains a critical strategy for the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP), which details how the state meets the FCAA.

How TERP Is Funded

Taxes on diesel equipment and motor vehicles provide funding for TERP. These include surcharges such as:

  1. Off-road Heavy Duty Diesel Equipment Surcharge- Rate: 2% of sale or lease price
  2. Motor Vehicle Surcharge- Rate: 2.5% of total price paid for 1996 or earlier year models; 1% of total price paid for 1997 and newer models
  3. Motor Vehicle Registration Surcharge- Rate: 10% of total fees due for the registration of the truck tractor or commercial motor vehicle
Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean school buses, Ozone| Comments closed

Do Shale Gas Activities Play A Role In Rising Ozone Levels?

(Credit: AFP Photo)

As we continue seeking relief from rising temperatures this month, it’s also time to be on the watch for ozone alerts. The annual Texas smog season – April 1 through October – already appears to be in full swing this year with numerous counties around the state exceeding health-based ozone concentrations many times since March.

Just last week, the Houston Chronicle highlighted the magnitude of ozone exceedances that the area hasn’t seen since 2003. Additionally, the month of May was the nation’s “smoggiest” in the past five years according to a recent report released by Clean Air Watch. Texas ranked second, surpassed only by California, for the most Code Red and Code Orange days so far in 2012, with 18 days and 27 days respectively.

Ozone-forming pollution is emitted by cars, refineries and various industrial plants.  As more Texans begin to see shale gas drilling rigs pop up around them, many are asking the question: Could emissions from natural gas and oil operations significantly contribute to ground-level ozone? The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The Role of Natural Gas and Oil in Rising Ozone Levels

While burning natural gas produces less smog-forming pollution than coal combustion but more than renewable energy generation, much of the equipment used in the drilling, production, processing and transporting of natural gas and oil produces significant amounts of such pollution.   This equipment releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which combine in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone or “smog.”  According to the state of Colorado, natural gas and oil operations were the largest source of ozone-forming pollution, VOCs and NOx in 2008.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reported that storage tanks used in the exploration and production of natural gas and oil are the largest source of VOCs in the Barnett Shale. Recently, there have been additional concerns that San Antonio may not meet federal ozone standards due to Eagle Ford Shale development. Peter Bella, natural resources director at the Alamo Area Council of Governments, told the Houston Chronicle that the city is “right on the edge of nonattainment.”

Ozone concentrations comparable to those recorded in some of the most heavily polluted U.S. cities have been measured in rural parts of Wyoming and Utah, where little other industrial activity occurs:

It’s important to note, however, that ozone monitoring does not exist in many oil and gas development areas, so we don’t know the full extent of the potential problem.  For instance, though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has committed to start monitoring in the Eagle Ford, there is not currently sufficient monitoring to characterize ozone problems in the area.

Protection of Human Health

As natural gas and oil development expands into new regions, adverse air impacts are likely to follow, absent sufficient emissions controls. It is crucial for states to have strong standards in place, especially for a state such as Texas, which experienced exponential production increases in a short period time. The Eagle Ford Shale alone saw a 432 percent increase in natural gas production from 2010 to 2011.

We are happy to report that EPA recently finalized clean air measures that will serve as an important first step in reducing harmful pollution discharged from a variety of oil and natural gas activities.  In fact, last month, EDF President Fred Krupp testified before the U.S. Senate in support of these new clean air standards, which will result in significant reductions in smog-forming pollutants and hazardous air pollutants like benzene, a known carcinogen. As a co-benefit, the standards will also reduce methane, a potent climate forcer.

In his testimony, he said “these common sense measures are a win-win: they reduce pollution, conserve valuable domestic energy resources, and in some cases, actually save producers money.” He added that it was “critical that we build on these clean air measures if our nation is to fulfill the President’s promise in his State of the Union to develop natural gas without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

While mounting evidence continues to link natural gas drilling with rising ozone levels, it is important to remember why we should care in the first place:

  • Ozone has been linked to a host of maladies, including premature mortality, heart failure, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory causes among children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease, such as asthma and inflammation of the lung, and possible long-term damage to the lungs.
  • Children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions are the most at risk from ozone pollution. 
  • Ozone also damages crops and ecosystems. Ozone is one of the most phytotoxic air pollutants – causing damage to vegetation in national parks and wilderness areas, especially in mountain regions and to valuable crops.
  • Ozone pollution also contributes to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ozone is the third-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane.

In the end, we’re talking about the protection of human health as well as our entire planet. Continue to visit this blog for updates on rising ozone levels in our state, as well as other vital information related to Texas air quality.

Posted in Air Pollution, Natural gas, Ozone| Comments closed
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