Monthly Archives: April 2013

Air Quality Report: Texas Has More Work To Do

Source: American Lung Association

Texas climbed higher among the national “worst ozone” rankings list, but most of the nation continued on a long-term trend toward much healthier air, according to the Annual State of the Air Report released this week from the American Lung Association (ALA).

The report reviewed air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two of the most hazardous types of pollution: ozone and particle pollution.

Key National Findings:

  • More than 131 million people (42 percent of the U.S. population) live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.
  • Los Angeles has cut one-third of its unhealthy ozone days since first the State of the Air report came out in 2000.
  • Eighteen cities had lower year-round levels of particle pollution, including 16 cities with their lowest levels recorded.

Key Texas Findings:

  • Unfortunately Houston-Baytown-Huntsville ranked 7th place among the most ozone-polluted cities in the country, and Dallas-Fort Worth made a huge leap to 8th place nationally from 13th place just two years ago. Harris County also failed with regard to annual particle pollution.
  • Fifteen Texas Counties received a grade of “F” for ozone pollution:
    • Harris County (67 orange level ozone days, 10 red)
    • Dallas County (34 orange level ozone days, 4 red)
    • Bexar County
    • Brazoria County
    • Collin County
    • Denton County
    • Galveston County
    • Gregg County
    • Hood County
    • Jefferson County
    • Johnson County
    • Montgomery County
    • Orange County
    • Rockwall County
    • Tarrant County
    • On a more positive note, Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville made two of the “cleanest U.S. cities” list for ozone and short-term particle pollution.
    • To find out if your Texas town is on the most polluted list, visit the ALA site.

Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, Particulate Matter | 2 Responses, comments now closed

West Explosion: Not Enough Protections Or Not Enough Oversight?

Source: www.thenation.com

There’s been a lot of debate following the West tragedy as to whether a lack of safety protections, lack of coordination and oversight among enforcement agencies, or some combination of both contributed to a system wide failure and 14 deaths with hundreds injured. As we have mentioned before, Texas leads the nation in total fatal occupational injuries, with more than 400 deaths in 2011. And while not every accident can be prevented, it does seem that Texas gets more than its fair share.

In recent reports, some state officials have indicated that the state’s level of oversight for facilities like the one in West is adequate. It is difficult to understand how one could make such bold statements when the cause of the explosion has yet to be determined. Furthermore, some legislators have recommended this legislative session that state environmental laws be weakened. This is in addition to recent budget cuts at the state environmental agency; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) budget was recently cut by $305 million, which reduced the agency by 235 full-time employees. Perhaps what some of our officials really mean is that it is not a lack of oversight, but rather a lack of due diligence in enforcing the laws already on the books, laws designed to protect citizens from events like this one.

The Governor of Texas was quoted recently claiming that the state upholds the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But frankly that is not quite true. Acting alone, Texas recently refused to abide by laws on permitting regulations for greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, the state sent an aggressive letter to EPA stating that “On behalf of the state of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.”  EPA actually had to devise a federal implementation plan for greenhouse gas emissions, so that any new facilities built in the state of Texas could in fact work with a legal permit. Currently, facilities that need a greenhouse gas permit must apply to EPA rather than to TCEQ, even though it is Texas’ responsibility. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, TCEQ | 1 Response, comments now closed

Texans Celebrate Earth Day This Weekend

This post was written by guest blogger Katherine “Koko” Owens, EDF Communications Intern, US Climate and Energy Program.

Source: www.earthdaykids.com

By now many of us know that Earth Day is this coming Monday.  Countries around the world have been celebrating Earth Day every April 22 since 1970, when the Clean Air Act was enacted.  It’s a day when citizens of the world stop for just a moment to appreciate the planet on which we live, reflect on how to protect our precious resources, and most importantly, improve the sustainability and quality of life for all.

According to Wikipedia, the April 22 date was designated as International Mother Earth Day after the United Nations adopted a resolution in 2009.  Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and is celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.

Because April 22 falls on a Monday this year, many Earth Day events throughout the state of Texas will be held on Saturday and Sunday.  I have the happy privilege of joining some of my fellow EDFers on Saturday and Sunday at the Earth Day Dallas festival, where we invite all of our Texas Clean Air Matters readers to visit and say hello.  We will have coloring activities for those young, budding environmentalists and information on all of EDF’s initiatives.

This year, we will have EDF representatives talking about the environment related to oceans, ecosystems, our Climate Corps and Texas’ energy resources.  Naturally, I’ll be on the lookout for all things related to air quality and promise to remind visitors of the significance of the Clean Air Act. Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Dallas Fort-Worth | Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Explosion At Texas Plant Renews Concerns About State Environmental Agency

Source: kxan.com

Unfortunately, last night’s explosion at West Fertilizer, a plant just north of Waco, Texas is just one more tragedy in a long list of facility disasters in the state of Texas. (See previous TXCAM posts here and here).

The same questions always arise – how could this accident have been prevented? Who is responsible? What are the long term health implications to those who have survived this catastrophe?

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is the lead state agency in charge of permitting facilities such as the West plant. We know that the agency investigated the facility in 2006, only after a concerned citizen called to report a strong smell of ammonia. One of the troubling items regarding this complaint is that the agency knew that the smell was ammonia and that it was coming from a fertilizer facility (a deadly omen) and still took 11 days to investigate the complaint. Once the agency did get to the facility, they recognized that the plant was storing large quantities of anhydrous ammonia without a permit.

It turns out that the facility, originally built in 1962, had been grandfathered into the permitting program – the facility was not required to have a permit until September 1, 2004, the date marking the end of the grandfathered permitting period. This means that two years went by where the facility was operating in violation of a permit and completely unnoticed by the state environmental agency.

Another troubling bit of information is that the agency gave the facility an “unclassifiable” rating for their compliance history. Compliance history, as described by the agency, entails both positive and negative factors related to the facility's environmental performance at a site over the past five years—for example, whether at this site this customer has:

  • received an enforcement order, court order, or criminal conviction; related to environmental violations in another state;
  • received a citation for a chronic excessive emissions event;
  • received a notice of violation from the TCEQ;
  • received one or more inspections from the TCEQ (and, if so, the results of those inspections)

Given that the facility had been operating without a permit for two years, one might expect that the facility would have been given an unsatisfactory rating for compliance. An unsatisfactory rating would have triggered additional scrutiny or strengthened permit requirements for the facility. But of course we know that’s not what happened.

While no one questions that accidents happen, even at facilities that do abide by the law, it does seem that Texas gets more than its fair share of tragedies. In fact, Texas leads the nation in total fatal occupational injuries, with over 400 deaths in 2011. And when these tragedies happen at industrial facilities that handle large quantities of toxic and explosive materials, people die. Lives are forever changed.

The deaths in West, as well as all deaths from these kinds of tragedies, are senseless and preventable. In the name of all citizens in the state of Texas whose lives have ended in this tragic way, we implore the TCEQ to:

  • be more diligent with regard to monitoring of facilities – how many more facilities like West exist across the state?
  • hire more investigators since it is obvious that the current rate of facility inspections is woefully inadequate.
  • spend more time protecting the public than fighting against EPA and public health protections, using the saved funds instead for hiring more investigators.

Disclaimer: This video, filmed by a local citizen with his daughter, shows the plant as it explodes into a larger fire.  Not intended for sensitive audiences.

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

Renewables BuyBack Bill Pays Good Money For Clean Energy

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange blog.

Picture this: You live in Texas, the state with the most solar energy potential in the U.S. Knowing this, you decide to install solar panels on your home’s rooftop because, in Texas, you can lease – rather than buy – the entire solar energy system. The option to lease allows you to take advantage of a low monthly payment that will be offset by the savings on your energy bill, rather than face high upfront investment costs.

Now, while you are at work during the day, your panels are actually putting excess, unused energy back onto the grid, when electricity is most expensive. And, that surplus of energy isn’t just wasted; it is used by your electric company to serve other customers. In most states, electric companies buy this power back at a retail rate. But, in Texas it’s not quite that simple. In order to see any form of pay back, you have to be a lucky customer of one of only three retailers – TXU Energy, Reliant Energy and Green Mountain Energy – that offer “renewable buyback” rates in Texas. If you happen to buy electricity from one of the other 50 retailers serving residential providers across the state, though, you could always switch over to a renewable buyback program. But there is no guarantee that you will be paid a fair market value for the 25+ years your solar energy system is expected to last.

Making a long-term investment to protect against highly-fluctuating, unpredictable electric rates is a difficult decision, and making that decision without knowing whether you are guaranteed fair compensation is nearly impossible. This is one of the key reasons why Texas lags behind the nation in solar adoption. Fortunately, there is a solution in the works. Senate Bill 1239 from state Senator Jose Rodriguez seeks to guarantee homeowners, schools and religious facilities at least a minimum buyback rate based on wholesale market energy prices, which were about 50 percent lower than retail rates in 2011, on average. The bill has a similar impact for rural electric co-operative, municipal and independently-owned utility customers, ensuring that any homeowner, school or religious entity that installs a properly-sized solar energy system will be compensated comparable to the way a fossil fuel power plant is compensated in the wholesale market. Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy, Solar, Texas Energy Crunch | Tagged | Comments closed

Air Alliance Houston Names New Director

Adrian Shelley, executive director of Air Alliance Houston

We were pleased to hear the news last week that Air Alliance Houston named Adrian D. Shelley, III as its new executive director. Adrian succeeds Dr. Matt Tejada, who left this year for a new post as director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice.

Adrian is a native Houstonian and recently served as the community outreach coordinator for Air Alliance. He first worked with the organization in 2008, when he was serving with the University of Texas Environmental Law Clinic. At the clinic, he conducted research for a Clean Air Act citizen suit against a local chemical plant that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement. In 2010, he completed a fellowship with Air Alliance Houston in which he conducted research on flexible air permits at several Texas refineries.

“In our search for an executive director, it became readily apparent that in Adrian we had a very knowledgeable and capable individual already on staff who could step up and serve the organization well as its new executive director,” said Bob Levy, Air Alliance Board President.  “Adrian’s demonstrated passion for and commitment to the work of Air Alliance made him the board’s unanimous choice.”

I first met Adrian when he was in law school at University of Texas and was working on cases involving emission violations at facilities operating in Houston. Adrian’s commitment to protecting public health is steadfast, and he will be a valuable asset in helping to bring cleaner air to Houston. He is a two-time recipient of the Texas Legal Fellowship, a recipient of the Joe R. and Teresa L. Long Legal Fellowship, and a recipient of the University Co-op Public Interest Award for Graduating Students. He also served as the environmental director and counsel for State Representative Jessica Farrar during the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature.

Additionally, during and after law school, Adrian interned for the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U. S. Department of Justice, and Air Alliance Houston, while earning his Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas School of Law in 2010.

We look forward to working with Adrian and Air Alliance Houston in the pursuit of clean air for Texas.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Houston | 1 Response, comments now closed

Ozone Action Days: What Do They Really Mean

This post was written by guest blogger Deanna Altenhoff, Executive Director of CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas.

We are all familiar with the term “Ozone Action Day” and typically associate it with a hot summer day.  But what does it really mean?  The CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas, the only non-partisan, public/private organization in Central Texas exclusively focused on air quality improvement, explains the significance of ozone pollution – and what you can do to make a difference. The CLEAN AIR Force Board of Directors consists of 32 executives from both the public and private sector, including Dr. Elena Craft of the Environmental Defense Fund, united in the common goal of finding workable solutions for improving our region’s air quality. The CLEAN AIR Force is not about waiting for the federal government to tell us what to do to clean up our air; we’re about taking early action now to keep air quality decisions at the local level.

The CLEAN AIR Force oversees a number of voluntary air quality programs that serve the public and help to reduce ozone levels in the Central Texas region. Two examples of those programs are the Clean Air Partners Program and the Clean School Bus Program.  We help implement and coordinate the air quality improvement efforts of local businesses, governments and organizations through our Clean Air Partners Program and we help retrofit and replace older polluting school buses with newer cleaner technologies and implement anti-idling policies through our Clean School Bus Program.  Educating citizens on what they can do to reduce their emissions is also a key part of our mission.

Central Texas is considered near-nonattainment for ground-level ozone under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The ozone standard is currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb) and the Central Texas Design Value for 2012 was 74 ppb. Despite two new and lower ozone standards in the past 16 years and a doubling of the population in the last 22 years, Central Texas has been able to avoid nonattainment because of positive weather conditions and the many pro-active air quality efforts our region is making, but there are many challenges ahead.

EPA has announced they may lower the existing standard of 75 ppb to 60-70 ppb by the end of 2013. This means we must continue to work together as a region to significantly lower our ozone emissions or risk being designated as nonattainment, which would negatively impact both public health and the health of our economy.

So what’s so bad about ozone health-wise? Ozone is a form of oxygen that is formed through chemical reactions between natural and man-made emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight.  Sources of VOCs and NOx include automobiles, boats, refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, solvents used in dry cleaners and paint shops, and wherever natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, and oil are combusted.

Ozone Season in Central Texas runs from April 1st to October 31st. Ozone pollution is mainly a daytime problem during summer months because warm temperatures are key to its formation. When temperatures are high, sunshine is strong, and winds are low, ozone can accumulate to unhealthy levels. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean school buses, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone | Comments closed
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