Author Archives: Elena Craft, PhD

Soot Pollution Limits Unanimously Upheld in Court, Continuing Clean Air Victory Streak

rp_air-pollution-source-NRDC-300x187.jpgLast week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.

When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Particulate Matter | Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

One Year Later: Texas Environmental Agency Fails to Address Public Comments on Pollution in Texas City

This post was co-authored by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director. 

rp_Estimated-Distribution-of-Benzene-Annual-Concentration-Based-on-Retrieved-Primary-Source-Location-and-Wind-Direction-Frequency-300x179.jpg

Estimated Distribution of Benzene Annual Concentration, Based on Retrieved Primary Source Location and Wind Direction Frequency

One year ago this week, EDF, along with Air Alliance Houston (AAH), submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding its proposal to remove Texas City from the state’s Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL). We believe the agency’s proposal to remove Texas City from the Watch List for benzene and hydrogen sulfide, two lethal air pollutants, was premature.

To date, the TCEQ has not addressed our public comments on the Texas City proposal, though it has found time to analyze and recommend two other areas for removal from the APWL. We believe that this reflects TCEQ’s misplaced priorities. The agency seems to prefer removing areas from the APWL — thereby lifting a burden on industry— rather than ensuring adequate protection for public health. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Particulate Matter, TCEQ, Texas Permitting | Tagged , , | Comments closed

State of the Air 2014: 19 Texas Counties Continue to Struggle with Ozone Pollution

State of the Air ALA 2014Last week, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its annual State of the Air report, which reviews air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two of the most hazardous types of air pollution: ozone and particulate matter.

Overall findings indicate that ozone pollution increased in metropolitan areas throughout the nation due to warmer temperatures. At the same time, fine particle pollution, or soot as it is most commonly called, decreased due to fewer emissions from coal-fired power plants and wider use of cleaner fuels and engines.

For a primer on ozone pollution and health, read here.

Unfortunately, Houston crept up in the rankings to 6th most polluted for ozone in the country (up from 7th last year).  And with the exception of Dallas-Fort Worth, other cities in Texas followed the national ozone trend, reporting a greater number of unhealthy days this year. Texas cities did fare better on soot pollution, although a notable exception was El Paso, which was one of only five U.S. cities that saw an increase in year-round pollution. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Dallas Fort-Worth, Environment, Ozone, Particulate Matter | Tagged | Comments closed

Supreme Court Victory Brings Clean Air to Texas despite Challenges from State

Source: eoearth.org

Source: eoearth.org

Today marks the second in a series of clean air court victories that are nothing less than triumphant for air quality and health in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a clean air standard that will protect the health of Americans across 28 Eastern states, including Texas, from the harmful air pollution emitted by distant power plants that moves across state borders. For Texas, the nation’s number one emitter of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and the number two emitter of sulfur dioxide (SO2), these vital clean air protections will safeguard the health of our children and elderly and revoke the coal industry’s free license to pollute without limitation, shielding neighboring states from lethal particulate matter and smog-forming pollution. Not to mention, today’s decision (once again) proves that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s crusade to dismantle EPA’s common sense standards is fruitless, wastes taxpayer’s dollars, and jeopardizes the public health of all  Texans.

Much like the life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), upheld earlier this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals, CSAPR will reduce sulfur dioxide levels from power plants in eastern power plants by 73% and nitrogen oxide levels by 54% from 2005 levels. The emissions reductions from CSAPR alone will save up to 1,704 lives in Texas and provide the state with $5.8 to $14 billion annually in health benefits starting in 2014. Despite these substantial health benefits, the State of Texas challenged the rule to prevent a handful of coal plants from switching to low-sulfur coal, increasing scrubber efficiency, or installing readily-available pollution-control technology. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency | Tagged , , | Comments closed

One Year Later: Calls for Common Sense Oversight in the Wake of West Tragedy Go Unanswered

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

This past Thursday marked one year since a fire caused a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas to explode, killing 15 people, injuring over 300, and scaring a small Texas town forever. Since the West tragedy shocked Texas and the nation, it has become increasingly clear that the explosion could have been prevented had common-sense regulations—like a statewide fire code—been in place. Nevertheless, Texas leaders and state officials have failed to propose, much less adopt, a single common sense safeguard to prevent future tragedies. The anniversary of the West explosion reminds us of the urgent need for proactive measures to prevent a disaster of this magnitude from happening again.

Even before the West explosion, there were a string of industrial accidents across the state over recent years, reminding us that Texas should be doing a better job at managing the industrial sector. Read More »

Posted in Texas Permitting | Tagged | Comments closed

Air Emissions from Eagle Ford Oil and Gas Activity Expected to Quadruple over next Four Years

Well site located in Eagle Ford Shale play

Well site located in Eagle Ford Shale play

Late last week, the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) released a report outlining emission projections from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play, the most active drilling area in the country right now. Under the moderate drilling activity scenario, projections of air pollutants are expected to quadruple in the next four years. Even though this seems like a staggering prediction, it is likely an underestimation, given certain emissions are not accounted for in the inventory.

What does the report say?

The report assesses the emissions from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play and projects air pollution under three different development scenarios: low, moderate, and aggressive. Projections over the next several years indicate that we can expect substantial increases in smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, GHGs, Natural gas, Oil, Ozone, Particulate Matter, San Antonio, TCEQ | Tagged , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

EPA Hosts National Summit to Address Environmental Concerns and Sustainability at Ports

Source: Digital Vision

Source: Digital Vision

Every day, countless heavy duty diesel trucks and oil-burning cargo ships move tons of goods through U.S. ports, adding pollution to urban areas that may be suffering from poor air quality. As many ports across the nation are undergoing expansion projects and increased throughput of goods, environmental concerns have become a high profile issue. With the right tools and collaboration among stakeholders, however, ports have significant opportunity to lessen their environmental impact and improve local air quality.

Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will host a National Port Stakeholders Summit next week, in Baltimore, Maryland to address challenges and advance sustainability at ports. The summit invites experts and stakeholders to share expertise, ideas, and actions to reduce the ecological impact of port operations. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Ports | Tagged | Comments closed

Newly Released Vehicle and Fuel Standards Will Clean Up U.S. Fleet and Improve Texas Air Quality

Source: Green Mountain Energy Cleaner Times

Source: Green Mountain Energy Cleaner Times

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released updated Tier 3 vehicle emissions and fuel standards. The new standards are an update to the successful Tier 2 performance standards, which were finalized in 2000. Like the legacy Tier 2 program, the new Tier 3 standards will look at vehicles and fuels as a combined system to reduce both tailpipe pollution and gasoline sulfur content, improving urban air quality and saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs. Despite Tier 3’s projected benefits, lawmakers, and oil industry groups insist the standards are too costly. Of course, they fail to count the lasting health benefits from Tier 3—which more than outweigh the cost of the program.

The Benefits

The new fuel standards will instantly reduce emissions from every vehicle on the road once they are implemented in 2017, by reducing the amount of sulfur permitted in gasoline to 10 parts per million. Furthermore, the new vehicle tailpipe standards will cut smog-forming emissions by over 20 percent and fine particulate matter by 10 percent by 2030. EPA projects these vital emissions reductions will prevent between 770 and 2,000 premature deaths, 2,200 hospital admissions, and 19,000 asthma attacks annually by 2030, providing approximately $6.7 – $19 billion in annual health benefits. All of these benefits come at the low cost of less than one additional cent per gallon of gasoline, or about $72 per vehicle. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards, Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation | Tagged | Comments closed

Time for Texas to Work With EPA To Secure Cleaner Air For All Texans

Elena QuoteLast Wednesday, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify at a House Science, Space, and Technology hearing entitled Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas. It was my first time testifying on Capitol Hill and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with some of our Texas lawmakers on issues concerning the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas.

One item of discussion focused on the greenhouse gas permitting authority in the state and the fact that Texas’ legal actions have thwarted industrial facilities in the state from conducting business. A recent article in the Texas Tribune, titled “Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry,” highlights the burden that a dual permitting process places on businesses seeking greenhouse gas permits.

The process, which requires industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, to apply to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, has proved onerous for industry. In the article, the Texas Pipeline Association says, “more than 50 planned projects since early 2011 have been significantly delayed by the [Texas] permitting process, putting 48,000 jobs at risk.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ, Texas Permitting | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Common Sense Policies Can Protect Thousands of Houston Schoolchildren from Roadway Air Pollution

Source: Campaign for Clean Air

Source: Campaign for Clean Air

Recently, the Houston Chronicle published an article showing that over 80,000 schoolchildren at 127 schools are frequently exposed to air pollution due to their proximity to busy roadways. Houston, in particular, is vulnerable to the formation of unhealthy air pollution, given the city is home to one of the busiest ports in the country and some of the busiest roadways, and emissions from all those vehicles tend to pool around the streets locals use most. But what’s critical to note is that exposure to this kind of pollution is especially harmful for our young ones, as children breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults. Now, with these staggering figures, it’s clear that something must be done to protect Houston children from the dangers of vehicle pollution.

In total, 127 Houston-area schools were found to be located within 200 meters of a roadway, the distance within which traffic-related pollution is most potent. The accumulation of these emissions, which contain nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), form ozone pollution under the right conditions—usually on warm, sunny days. With no shortage of vehicles emissions or sunlight, the city is definitely a hot spot for ozone pollution and Houstonians are faced with increased health risks. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards, Houston, Ozone | Comments closed
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    Ramon AlvarezRamon Alvarez
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    Vice President, US Climate and Energy Program, Director of the Texas regional office

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