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