Texas Clean Air Matters

Taking shortcuts won't protect our families from air pollution

We know that air pollution is bad for our families. Science makes that abundantly clear. Studies, for example, show that mercury can damage the nervous system of children and fetuses, while ground-level ozone, or smog, can trigger asthma attacks.

Even pollution levels below those generally considered safe increase the risk for premature death, according to a study of more than 60 million Medicare recipients published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2017.

Remarkably, when faced with evidence that pollution kills, the Trump administration has attacked science rather than do the necessary work to protect public health and save lives. This excising of science deeply concerns me, as a mother and scientist. Read More »

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Houston neighborhood maps decades-old pollution problem, paving way for communities nationwide

A teenage girl walks around the track of a Houston park across the street from a refinery. (Associated Press)

Bridgette Murray, a retired nurse, lives in a predominantly black neighborhood on Houston’s east side, where small houses grace tree-shaded streets, all built around two schools and a city park.

Its name is Pleasantville, a postwar version of the American dream. But the reality is something different.

Warehouses, metal recyclers, salvage yards, Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery and an interstate push hard against the neighborhood, proof and product of the city’s light-on-regulations approach to land use. Trains and trucks rumble through the area day and night. It can be difficult to breathe.

“Playing victim has never been one of my personality traits,” said Murray, whose family moved to Pleasantville in 1957, years before industry’s arrival. “I am here to work with the residents for solutions.”

As founder of the nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, or ACTS, Murray is working with Environmental Defense Fund to fully understand Pleasantville’s air pollution and its associated harmful health effects. She wants to map a fair, just and sustainable path forward for her community. Read More »

Also posted in Environmental Justice, Houston, Particulate Matter, Ports / Comments are closed

These 3 trends could enable cities across America to reduce air pollution

In recent years – and especially in recent months, cities have emerged as leaders in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect public health. One of the most effective ways to accomplish both of these goals is to focus on reducing air pollution – and there’s an unexpected frontrunner doing just that, while also providing a roadmap for other city leaders on how to get started: Houston.

The city has a lot working against it when it comes to air quality: as a petrochemical hub, it’s home to more than 450 industrial facilities, and emissions from the marine and transportation sector in this sprawling port city are also major contributors to poor air quality. But Houston is also taking significant steps in the right direction: its mayor, Sylvester Turner, has publicly supported action on climate and clean air, and it’s using innovative mobile sensing technologies to collect unprecedented levels of air pollution data. Mayor Turner has also championed clean transportation policies that cities can implement today to reduce climate emissions from cars and trucks and improve air quality.

As these efforts expand across Houston and beyond, here are three emerging trends that could help other city leaders get started in measuring – and then addressing – pollution in their own backyards. Read More »

Also posted in Electric Vehicles, Houston, Transportation / Comments are closed

How Texas plans to use the VW settlement

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently released its draft plan for the state’s $209 million share of the settlement from Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scheme. The money is meant to help offset the additional air pollution released by Volkswagen (VW) cars after the German automaker admitted that it had used illegal software to cheat on emissions tests. In Texas, VW sold more than 40,000 vehicles that emitted up to 40 times the federal emissions standard for lung-damaging nitrogen oxides (NOx).

This post provides an initial look at TCEQ’s draft plan. Future posts will explore how effective the proposed projects could be for reducing air pollution and protecting human health. Read More »

Also posted in Dallas Fort-Worth, Drayage, Electric Vehicles, Goods Movement, Houston, Ports, San Antonio, TCEQ, Transportation / Read 2 Responses

Why accurate reporting of air pollution after Hurricane Harvey matters

Hartmann Park, Valero Refinery, Manchester County, Houston Texas.

In addition to dumping historic amounts of rain across southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey triggered a wave of air pollution, with petrochemical plants and oil refineries releasing 8.3 million pounds of harmful chemicals that exceeded state limits. At least, that is what they told state officials.

Companies, however, reduced those estimates by 1.7 million pounds in later filings with the state, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

The steep drop suggests that some companies may not have accounted accurately for all Harvey-related pollution increases in their reporting to the state. As a result, people’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, may be substantially underestimated.

Industry frequently justified the changes in emissions estimates by arguing that flexible state-issued permits, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s suspension of several environmental rules in advance of Harvey, made the pollution legal. Read More »

Also posted in Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, Ozone, TCEQ, Texas Permitting, Uncategorized / Comments are closed

Texans urge Gov. Abbott to act on storm-related air pollution before the next Harvey

With the start of this year’s hurricane season, Environmental Defense Fund and our partners in the Houston-based One Breath Partnership delivered a letter signed by more than 3,000 Texans and 20 organizations to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to act now to protect people from harmful air pollution before the next storm.

The letter to Gov. Abbott comes after Hurricane Harvey unleashed a second storm of air pollution. By industry’s own estimates, the Houston region’s network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants released more than 2 million pounds of harmful chemicals into the air during and after the storm – the equivalent of six months’ worth of unauthorized air pollution in just a few days.

Many industrial plants in Harvey’s path released extra pollutants into the air when they shut down in preparation for the storm and when they resumed operations. For example, Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown reported releasing roughly 750,000 pounds of excess emissions, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Harvey damaged other facilities, allowing hazardous gases to escape. EDF and Houston officials, for example, detected alarmingly high levels of benzene in Manchester, a neighborhood adjacent to a storm-damaged Valero Energy refinery. In Crosby, explosions at a flooded chemical plant triggered an evacuation of nearby residents and sent emergency workers to hospitals. Yet, for all the attention the Arkema episode received, industry reports showed that there were 10 larger releases of air pollution because of storm damage, an EDF analysis found.

“TCEQ was unprepared to track Harvey’s air pollution in real time,” said Elena Craft, senior health scientist at EDF. “Although TCEQ has dozens of stationary monitors across Houston, many of them were turned off during the storm. That is why mobile, on-the-ground monitoring is so crucial. We need to be sure that the agency is there when it is needed, doing its job to protect the people from exposure to different environmental threats.” Read More »

Also posted in Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, Legislation, TCEQ, Uncategorized / Comments are closed