Air Quality Poses Challenges and Opportunities for San Antonio’s New Mayor

SONY DSCTexans don’t always associate clean air with major urban areas, and for good reason. The heavy industrial activity, electric power plants, and vehicular traffic in big cities all combine to create ground level ozone, commonly known as smog. Increased ozone and smog has known negative impacts on human health, including causing asthma  attacks and other respiratory problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates ozone and sets guidelines for when a city is in compliance with air quality standards. Currently, San Antonio is technically in compliance with EPA ozone standards, but only by a quirk in how the agency’s compliance timelines work. A closer look actually shows the city has the second worst air quality of any urban area in Texas – second only to Dallas/Fort Worth.

The correlation between ozone and public health has spurred EPA to revise and strengthen its national ozone standards. If San Antonio continues with business as usual, it’s clear local air quality and public health will continue to suffer, and San Antonio will be officially designated as non-compliant with EPA standards.

Any large city has a number of challenges, but San Antonio’s leadership is faced with the particularly difficult task of cleaning up the region’s worsening air quality. Why the “region”?  While there are certainly many actions the city needs to take to reduce pollution generated within San Antonio, pollution is also being transported by air from nearby areas. For example, experts from the University of Texas  and the Alamo Area Council of Governments were able to show that oil and gas operators in the Eagle Ford Shale region contribute to San Antonio smog.

This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for San Antonio’s political leadership. Prior to the election, EDF, along with several other environmentally focused groups, hosted a Q&A with the mayoral candidates. One of the topics covered was the city’s ozone problem and emissions from the Eagle Ford region.

When Mayor Ivy Taylor was asked what leadership role she would take to ensure the regional stakeholders, including the oil and gas industry, come to the table and do their fair share to improve air quality that impacts San Antonio, she answered:

“… I think it would be my job as mayor, and I take this responsibility seriously, to convene all of these folks and to ensure that we in San Antonio are part of a regional discussion. I have noted that I believe that’s an area where we can improve our city government and we need to invest resources in having staff that are in consistent communication with some of these other areas that are nearby. So I would like to advocate for that. But then be a key voice and a key player at the table as well and try to figure out if there is a way that we can balance if there’s anything that we can do to provide a framework that would reduce and minimize those impacts while we still continue to enjoy the benefits of all that economic activity.”

Mayor Taylor deserves our congratulations on her election as San Antonio’s mayor, and also our support in working toward fulfilling her campaign promises. It’s also promising to see other political leaders in San Antonio engaging on air quality issues, including Councilmembers Ron Nirenberg and Ray Lopez, who have called for greater action to improve the city’s air quality. EDF looks forward to working with the city’s leadership, the public, and key stakeholders to create a framework for solving what is a problem not just for San Antonio, but the entire region.

Photo Source: Katie Haugland

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