Author Archives: Elena Craft, PhD

Ozone Season Is Over, but the Fight for Clean Air in Texas Isn’t

Elena CraftOctober 31 marked the official end of ozone season in Texas. Ozone pollution, commonly known as smog, forms when compounds found in fossil fuel emissions react with sunlight. Ozone is a serious health concern for Texans, as excess exposure to ozone has been linked to a number of detrimental health effects, including asthma, heart attacks and even cancer.

Unfortunately, for many Texas cities, the combination of sunny days and crowded highways led to consistent violations of the standard over the course of this ozone season, and on a few days outside the season.

This year’s air quality measurements from the Houston region demonstrate that ozone pollution surpassed EPA’s health-based standard during 24 separate 8-hour intervals in 2013. Last year, the same air monitoring stations recorded 37 ozone violation days. Houston saw the highest ozone levels across the state, but Dallas and San Antonio followed closely behind. The worst days for both Houston and Dallas came when ozone peaked at 100 ppb—a level considered unsafe for healthy children and adults to have prolonged outdoor activities. Read More »

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

Policy Summit Will Explore Environmental Justice And Disproportionate Health Risks In Houston

Source: The Beat News

On Thursday, health and policy experts will gather in Houston for the Invisible Houston Revisited Three Decades Later Policy Summit at Texas Southern University. The summit will explore and expand upon the topics and themes highlighted in Dr. Robert D. Bullard’s 1987 book Invisible Houston.

Dr. Bullard’s groundbreaking book revealed that Houston’s municipal authorities disproportionally sited environmental hazards, such as garbage dumps and incinerators, in neighborhoods predominately occupied by minorities. Since then, Dr. Bullard, “father of environmental justice” and current Dean of the School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, has led the charge for Environmental Justice, the concept that environmental laws and policies should not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin or income. His advocacy work culminated in the Environmental Justice Executive Order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, which codified the values of Environmental Justice into law.

Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sought to advance Environmental Justice across the federal government, including developing guidance to consider environmental justice in EPA rulemakings. Ultimately, the goal of this mission is to eliminate the disproportionate impact of industrial activities on environmental justice communities. Read More »

Posted in Environment, Houston, Ports, Transportation | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Outdoor Air Pollution Officially Labeled A Leading Environmental Cause of Cancer

Source: Webmd

For years, scientists have explored the links between excess air pollution and health conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and even cancer. Recently, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the specific relationship between air pollution and occurrence of lung cancer in humans. IARC reviewed over 1,000 scientific papers from five continents and concluded that there is a clear relationship between exposure to everyday air pollution and lung cancer.

Based on the results of the evaluation, the WHO officially classifies outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans – listing air pollution alongside other carcinogens like formaldehyde, plutonium and asbestos. According to IARC officials, breathing in polluted air was found to be very similar to breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke, depending on one’s level of exposure. But unlike tobacco smoke, outdoor air pollution is often unavoidable.

The most common sources of air pollution are transportation, fossil fuel power plants, industrial and agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooking—all of which are a part of everyday life in most parts of the world. Because almost all of us are exposed to these pollutants, the occurrence for cancer-related death is quite high. In fact, the most recent data indicate that in 2010 alone 223,000 lung cancer deaths resulted from air pollution.  The most devastating thing about these numbers is that these are all preventable deaths. Read More »

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

Texans Believe In Climate Change—It’s Time Our Voices Are Heard

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on where humanity stands on climate change. IPCC brings together thousands of volunteer scientists and other global experts to review humankind’s current scientific understanding of climate change. After these academic experts have come to consensus, officials from nearly 200 U.N. member countries review their results. The latest report shows that we are more certain than ever before that the climate is changing, and if humanity doesn’t act now, we could face devastating warming in the future.

The broad international consensus on climate change stands in stark contrast with what we typically hear from our elected representatives in Texas. Too often, they call climate change “unsettled science,” or claim that some uncertainty around the extent of warming warrants inaction from the state that emits the most carbon dioxide in the nation. The state’s environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), famously censors mentions of climate change from its reports. And even more aggressively, the state has fought the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) permitting process for large sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) tooth and nail. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs | Tagged | 2 Responses, comments now closed

West Strong: We Will Not Forget

Last weekend, The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media publication that covers public policy, politics, environmental issues and other statewide matters, hosted its annual Texas Tribune Festival. As always, the festival did an amazing job of bringing folks together from around the state to discuss the most important policy issues of the year. I was lucky enough to participate on a panel titled “After West” as part of the environmental track. The panel was dedicated to lessons learned after this year’s terrible tragedy in West, Texas that took the lives of 15 people and devastated a small town.

Other participants on the panel included: Chris Connealy, Texas State Fire Marshall; Tim Herrman, State Chemist of Texas Tommy Muska, Mayor of West; Kyle Kacal, State Representative; and Alana Rocha, reporter, The Texas Tribune (panel moderator) Read More »

Posted in Environment, Texas Permitting | Tagged , | Comments closed

Texas To Benefit From EPA’s New Power Plant Standards

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first-ever standard on carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants. The landmark standard will limit the amount of carbon dioxide that a power plant can emit into the atmosphere. The new rules will have the greatest impact on coal power plants, which release more carbon dioxide than any other power source. EPA’s announcement comes as welcome news in this era of prolonged inaction on climate change. Nevertheless, opponents are already lining up to fight EPA’s standards tooth and nail.

Attorneys General from 17 states, including Texas, have banded together and pledged to fight any limits on carbon pollution. They claim that individual states should have sole authority to regulate emissions from sources within their boundaries. Unfortunately, states like Texas have demonstrated in the past that they are unwilling to regulate carbon pollution, a big statement considering that Texas releases more carbon pollution than any other state in the nation.

EPA’s announcement today is a common sense approach to solving the climate crisis. The proposed standards would set the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. They do not apply to currently operating, existing power plants. As a result, the standards will hasten the transition toward cleaner electricity sources with fewer carbon emissions and help drive U.S. policy forward reflecting that these clean energy technologies are the best option for powering America. Read More »

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

Houston’s Ozone Progress Commendable, But Still Inadequate To Protect Human Health

Source: Houston Air Quality

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region VI, representing Texas and surrounding states, announced that Houston was on track to meet the 1997 federal health standard for ozone within the next five years. Of course, I am and have been supportive of the multitude of efforts deployed and enforced to reduce ozone levels in Houston over the years. At the same time, I am concerned that the recent announcement may create a public perception of Houston as out of the weeds.

The truth is that the 1997 standard has been found to be woefully inadequate to protect human health from the harms of ozone, which include, but are not limited to, asthma, bronchitis and cancer. The 1997 standard of 84 parts per billion (ppb) was revised in 2008 to a standard of 75ppb.  Even this standard of 75ppb, however, has been criticized for failing to provide adequate public health protection. In addition, a closer look at ozone Design Values (a wonky term for the three-year average of the four highest days of eight-hour ozone concentration in each year) in Houston over the last five years suggests that the region may have reached a plateau in terms of reducing ozone. Read More »

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

Regional Clean Air Coalitions Take The Next Step To Improve Air Quality

Last month, I highlighted some Texas cities working to educate their citizens on the importance of air quality. Because air pollution is a persistent problem throughout Texas, the state’s largest cities all maintain websites focusing on ways to mitigate emissions and take precautions when air pollution reaches concentrations considered to be unhealthy. While these informational campaigns promote voluntary reductions in emissions, they aren’t sufficient to keep air quality under control.

Regional coalitions all over the state are at the front line forging needed partnerships to achieve major emissions reductions and improve the quality of air across Texas. The following are a few organizing leading the effort: Read More »

Posted in Dallas Fort-Worth, Environment, Houston, Ozone, San Antonio | Comments closed

NOAA Reports On Climate; Texas Politicians Stick Heads In Sand

This post originally appeared on EDF's Voices blog.

Last week, a coalition of environmental groups presented U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and other Texas politicians with “awards” for their persistent denial of basic climate science. In fact, climate change denial is all too common among Texas lawmakers. Governor Rick Perry, for example, calls climate change “a theory that has not been proven.”

In contrast, the international scientific community almost unanimously agrees that greenhouse gases associated with human activity are responsible for the global warming pattern we’ve seen since the mid-20 century. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual State of the Climate report. The report brings together leading scientists and academics to assess the state of the Earth’s climate. The 2012 report, which included contributions from 384 authors from 52 countries, is the most authoritative analysis of climate change and its global effects. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Coal, Drought, Extreme Weather | Tagged , | Comments closed

EPA Seeks New Ideas To Include Environmental Justice Groups In The Rulemaking Process

Source: online.liebertpub.com

Do you have ideas to help federal decision makers ensure that environmental justice issues are adequately represented in new rules?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a technical guidance document in May to assist its staff with tools and information to include environmental justice (EJ) issues in the agency’s rulemaking process. This document, titled “Draft Technical Guidance for Assessing Environmental Justice in Regulatory Analysis,” is open for public comment until Sept 6, 2013. Time is running out to have your voice heard!

What is Environmental Justice?

EPA defines Environmental Justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. EPA launched its EJ movement in the early 1980s to provide an open forum for citizens and communities particularly impacted by environmental and pollution hazards. For instance, communities disproportionately impacted by pollution around the Houston Ship Channel or near the Port of Houston would be considered EJ areas. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs | Tagged , , , , | 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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