Monthly Archives: March 2013

New Tier 3 Vehicle Emissions Standards Offer Huge Step Forward For Clean Air In Texas

Immediate Reductions Are Equivalent To Taking One In Eight Cars Off the Road


Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released updated national vehicle emissions and fuel standards, commonly referred to as Tier 3, which will reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline and establish stronger tailpipe emission limits on new passenger vehicles.

These measures will directly reduce toxic air pollutants, soot and smog – or ground level ozone as it is otherwise called – and at a low cost. Tier 3 is supported by state health officials, automakers, the emissions control industry, health and environmental groups, and national recreation groups because it will help protect public health, provide greater regulatory certainty for the automobile industry, and create jobs in refineries and manufacturing.  Furthermore, the additional cost to consumers of the cleaner gasoline will be less than a penny a gallon.

Why is Tier 3 important? Passenger vehicles are the second largest emitters of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds in the U.S. – the two primary pollutants that form ozone. Cars and light trucks also emit more than half of all carbon monoxide pollution, and contribute significantly to dangerous and sometimes lethal particulate matter emissions.  One of the Tier 3 supporters, Honda’s Senior Manager of Environment & Energy Strategy, Robert Bienenfeld explains that Tier 3 regulations will “enable a single national fleet to address all emissions regulations, and to reduce real-world emissions and improve public health.”

The benefit to the public will come from a dramatic and immediate cut in air pollution just from the sulfur reduction in gasoline alone – comparable to taking 33 million vehicles or one in eight cars off the road, according to National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA).  Couple the fuel standards with the tailpipe standards and they will together reduce national motor vehicle emissions of NOx, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds by 29, 38 and 26 percent respectively.

Bill Becker, the Executive Director of NACAA, notes that “There is no rule that will provide states and localities with as significant and as expeditious reductions in NOx as the Tier 3 regulations.” And when you think of Texas, a state with approximately 19,175,000 cars and trucks  driving across 80,000 miles of road, you can expect to see a significant air quality improvement.

It is safe to say that Texas is in need of cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.  First, as we have reported many times, Texas is a high risk area for ozone health threats.  Last year, Texas exceeded ‘health-based’ ozone limits over 120 times in the larger metropolitan areas.  Second, Texas keeps growing, and with a rise in population comes a rise in the number of cars on the road as well as the associated health risks.  Luckily, Texas citizens are in a position to take control of their everyday car usage and shift gears on the type of car to buy. Hybrid and electric vehicles are clean alternatives and are becoming more popular in the state. And advanced technologies for gasoline and diesel vehicles are driving up miles per gallon (MPG) to help Texans capture fuel cost savings, despite the state’s challenges to fuel efficiency improvements.   There are other ways Texans can offset car pollution and save money – they can drive less, use public transportation and push local governments for clean, fuel-efficient programs. From a health perspective, cleaner cars mean cleaner air and improved health for Texas citizens.

Click here to find out more ways to reduce your own car footprint, limit gasoline usage and save money at the pump.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards, Ozone, Transportation / Comments are closed

New Thinking Is Critical To Better Manage Water And Electricity Resources In Texas

Central Texas Workshop Discusses Opportunities For Resiliency During Extreme Weather Events

Last week, I attended a regional workshop that focused on adapting to extreme events, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Water Research Foundation, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, and NOBLIS. This workshop was the sixth in a series organized around the country to determine what is needed to increase the resilience of water utilities and communities in the face of extreme weather events. While the focus was on water, time and again, electricity was brought into the conversation—the two are closely linked, and in Texas, a state facing shortages of both water and power, this will require some creative thinking on our part.

This workshop focused on Central Texas, in particular our drought. But as the two-day workshop went on, it became clear to the organizers when local water utilities and other stakeholders spoke, that drought was only one extreme event that Texas has had to deal with…and continues to deal with. We are a state of extremes—weather, politics, personalities—and we not only have drought to handle, but also hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and just generally scorching heat. One of the first speakers was John Nielson-Gammon, the State Climatologist based out of Texas A&M University. He confirmed that while these natural phenomena are not new to Texas, we are experiencing more intense weather events. Last year was one of the hottest in Texas since we started recording temperatures, and we are heading into the third year of a pretty gruesome drought. Not being prepared for extreme events to get worse seems pretty foolhardy.

During the workshop, we heard from a variety of speakers from around the Central Texas region, including from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Lower Colorado River Authority, rice growers, the University of Texas, the high tech industry, and individuals from Austin, San Antonio, and Bastrop. These people are dealing first hand with the impacts of the extreme events we’ve had in the past few years. They are simultaneously trying to manage the current situation while planning for what the changing climate means in the coming years. It’s a difficult balancing act.

As an outsider to the planning process, I was asked to report on the proceedings of a meeting at the end and to give an overview of my impressions of the workshop. My impressions were as follows:

It is crucial to balance short-term preparedness with long-term resiliency, and neither should be sacrificed at the expense of the other. Planners in Central Texas know how to handle floods, fires, and drought, but the intensity of these natural phenomena will likely increase with the effects of climate change. It’s also essential to ensure that we are protecting our water and electricity needs for the long-term.

There is tension between urban and rural needs. This is not a new concept, and it is particularly tense with regards to water needs. Often the decisions about water and electric needs are made in cities, and city dwellers may think of rural needs only in the abstract. But protecting the quantity of water available for farmers and ranchers is how we feed our urban populations. Some cities in Central Texas are, out of necessity, dealing with this issue. In the wake of the wildfires in Bastrop, planners in that area are taking a closer look at how homes are constructed and how the urban/rural interface affects the ability to provide water for its population and prevent future wildfires. Controlled burns are one way that wildfires are prevented, but you can’t do controlled burns in a subdivision built into a forest. Thinking about developing our communities in more thoughtful ways is critical.

Adapting to our changing climate necessarily includes water, but it also goes beyond water. Emergency preparedness must include ensuring adequate water supplies and electricity. We can envision extreme events in Austin because we’ve had them in the past: fatal flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, drought, and heat waves. These extreme events will likely intensify as climate change advances, and we need to be comprehensive in our planning. We know that we’re facing potential electricity shortages within the next three years, and water supplies are already stressed. We also have to take into consideration whether our current infrastructure can maintain our growing population, especially in the face of future extreme events, and what those events mean in terms of health impacts. Many evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike were dehydrated and fell sick, and healthcare workers across the state responded heroically. We should anticipate more vulnerable populations in the wake of extreme events in the future. Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, Drought, Environmental Protection Agency, Extreme Weather, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed

Now You Can Use Your Smartphone To Check Houston Smog Levels

This post was written by Larry Soward, Air Alliance Houston Transition Director.

Source: Air Alliance Houston

Houston area residents can now track ozone pollution levels anytime, anywhere with a new groundbreaking Smartphone app created through a partnership between Air Alliance Houston, the American Lung Association Plains-Gulf Region, and the University of Houston Honors College.

This exciting new tool extends the resources already available through the Houston Clean Air Network website – the first real-time ozone website for the Houston region – developed by these three groups through a generous grant from the Houston Endowment. The Houston Clean Air Network website and now the Smartphone app enable citizens of the Houston region to get up-to-the-minute air quality information and take control over their own exposure to ozone, reducing the associated health effects.

The new “Ozone Map” app is available free on iPhone and iPad through the Apple App Store and on Android devices through Google Play.

Although individuals are currently able to check ozone values at monitor locations through various government agencies, that data available is typically about 1.5 hours old. This is important because ozone values can change quickly, and people in sensitive groups need to know actual exposure levels. “Ozone Map” provides a unique visual representation of how the real-time ozone levels are moving throughout the Houston area. Displayed much like a weather radar map, users can see the ozone “cloud” moving across the Houston area, as well as the ozone levels in different parts of the city. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Ozone / Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

What More Sound Science Does The TCEQ Need?

This blog post was written by Larry R. Soward, and it originally appeared on the Air Alliance Houston’s blog.

In our December 2012 article, “New Soot Standards Will Better Protect Public Health,” we wrote about the new, stricter national air quality standard for fine particulate matter adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Particulate matter (PM) is one of the six "criteria" pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment for which the EPA is required to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards. PM that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller — called “fine particulate matter” or “PM2.5” and commonly known as “soot” — is of greatest concern because of its significant health effects on people with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults.

Because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, the new PM 2.5 standard is predicted to have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. The EPA estimates health benefits of the new standard to range from $4 billion to over $9 billion per year, while estimated costs of implementation range from $53 million to $350 million. While the EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the federal Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations.

Strongly supportive of this new, more health-protective standard is a landmark study recently announced at a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and published in the American Heart Association journal. The study found a direct link between out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and levels of air pollution from PM and ozone. Conducted by Rice University researchers right here in Houston and based on 8 years of data collected from Houston's network of air quality monitors and more than 11,000 concurrent out-of-hospital cardiac arrests logged by Houston Emergency Medical Services, the study shows that the risk of cardiac arrest ratchets up significantly as the amount of air pollution increases.

Rice statisticians Katherine Ensor, a professor and chair of Rice's Department of Statistics, and Loren Raun, a research professor in the department, found that a daily average increase in fine particulate matter of 6 micrograms per day over two days raised the risk of cardiac arrest by 4.6 percent, with particular impact on those with pre-existing, but not necessarily cardiac-related, health conditions. The study also found that increases in ozone levels produced similar results, but in a compressed timeframe. Each increase of 20 parts per billion of ozone over one to three hours also increased the risk of cardiac arrest, reaching a peak of 4.4 percent. The risks were higher for men, African-Americans and people over age 65. Ensor and Raun noted that 55 percent of the cardiac arrest cases occurred during the summer months, the period of typically high ozone levels in Houston. Approximately 300,000 persons in the U.S. experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year, of which over 90 percent die. Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, TCEQ / Comments are closed

ALEC Updates & Action Alert: State-By-State Renewable Energy Attacks Are Underway

Back in November, I wrote about how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was partnering up with the Heartland Institute to attack renewable energy standards across 29 states. As an organization propped up by the fossil fuel industry, this behavior comes as no surprise. But the sneaky way they are trying to undue laws that encourage solar, wind and other renewable energy sources needs to be exposed and citizens of these states must stand up to the corporate interests desperately holding onto their power to pollute.  Across the country, we are watching ALEC and industry allies try to unravel decades of progressive energy legislation.

In the sunny southwest, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has eliminated the performance-based incentives (PBIs) provided to commercial solar energy customers by the state’s two investor-owned utilities (IOUs). It also drastically reduced the upfront incentives (UFIs) provided by the IOUs to residential solar energy customers. SolarCity Governmental Affairs Director Meghan Nutting explained that “as the Arizona incentives have been slowly reduced, the industry has kept up. Ratepayers have invested in the industry to a point where we are almost without a need for incentives. But a sudden and complete elimination of all incentives that cuts the commercial solar industry off at the knees means we will have to start over.” The ACC decision, she added, means “people are going to lose their jobs in the sunniest state in the country in an industry that Arizona has depended on through the recession and should dominate.” The ACC commissioners’ rationale for the cuts was that they will reduce the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) premium added to Arizona ratepayers’ utility bills to fund solar. The REST premium was established by the ACC in 2007 and is capped at $4.00 per month. Calculations by Arizona solar advocates concluded that the PBI cuts will save APS ratepayers no more than $0.02 to $0.06 per month.

Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Clean Air Strategies Needed At Port of Houston As Commission Reports Record Year, Projects Growth

Source: Port of Houston

On February 26, the Port of Houston Authority Commission reviewed its operations and approved a 2013 budget with a higher total revenue, net income and profit margin than either 2011 or 2012. The port also projected growth in both 2013 and 2014 and reported a record year in 2012 in terms of total tonnage (the number of tons coming into the port). The nearly 20 percent increase in the amount of tonnage at the port between 2010 and 2014 (projected) and the cruise business that will draw more than 100 vessel calls over the next several years are expected to contribute to regional air quality challenges. Couple the additional traffic from the port with population growth in the metro region, current nonattainment status for ozone and strengthened standards for particulate matter, and the Port of Houston faces an uphill climb in helping the region meet its air quality goals.

EDF has promoted clean air strategies in Houston for many years and has worked closely with the port on implementation strategies that have made a real difference in reducing air pollution. There is much more to do, and EDF is looking forward to taking the next steps with the port on actions that include:

Source: Port of Houston

  • Comprehensive adoption and implementation of revamped Clean Air Strategy Plan (a framework for emissions mitigation programs at the port)
  • Increased support for the Clean Truck Program (by 2015, almost half of all emissions at the port are expected to come from trucks)
  • Buy-in from port executives for environmental strategies
  • A plan to mitigate emissions resulting from the additional cruise traffic
  • Support for the environmental performance benchmarking system
  • Engagement with local communities on ambient air quality concerns

Importantly, the Texas Legislature is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, March 13 to discuss, among other issues, a bill that would significantly reform governance at the Port of Houston Authority. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, comes as a direct result of the Sunset Review conducted last year and is an opportune time for our state policymakers and port leadership to advance clean air policies at the Port of Houston.

The 2013 budget paints a bright financial future for the port. Now is the time to make sound investments in emissions mitigation programs that will ensure sustainable growth and help protect everybody’s clean air.

Posted in Air Pollution, Houston / Comments are closed