Texas Clean Air Matters

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

Houston's smog won't go away without EPA's help

Manchester County refineries. Houston, Texas.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave Houston three years to meet health-based limits for ground-level ozone, or smog. While it is a good goal, the six-county region cannot achieve it without the agency taking aggressive steps to reduce air pollution.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt take those steps. He is moving in the other direction, promoting policies that will increase smog-forming pollution in Houston and beyond.

Here are three realities about Houston’s stubborn smog problem:

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Also posted in Clean Air Act, Houston, Ozone, Uncategorized / Read 1 Response

Shut down the shutdowns: What the frequency of excess emissions means for our health

Oil refineries and petrochemical plants released millions of pounds of harmful chemicals into the air in the days after Hurricane Harvey began charging toward Texas.

The primary reason for the extra pollution? The shutdowns and startups of dozens of industrial facilities in the storm’s path.

While these unauthorized releases are particularly striking during times of natural disasters like Harvey, they occur regularly during the routine operation of many industrial facilities, Indiana University researchers concluded in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Here are three takeaways from the study: Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution / Tagged | Comments are closed

Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on people’s health – Texas should be better prepared next time

Kate Zerrenner contributed to this post

The National Hurricane Center in January confirmed what many Texans already knew: Hurricane Harvey’s overwhelming rainfall – and the devastation it left behind – was unlike anything recorded in U.S. history.

Harvey’s rains easily surpassed previous landmark storms, with totals as high as 70 inches in some areas of southeastern Texas.

Yet the historic rainfall total is only part of the Harvey story – the storm also let loose a toxic stew of chemicals and other threats to people’s health. We still do not know the full extent of Harvey’s havoc on health, which will likely have ripple effects for years to come. Texas did not do enough to protect public health this time, but there are ways to minimize the harm before the next storm. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution / Tagged | Comments are closed

A healthier, more resilient Houston needs cleaner air

This op-ed originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

In 2017, Houston endured 21 days with unhealthy levels of smog, triggering asthma attacks and missed school days for many of our children and hospitalizations for grandparents.

And, believe it or not, that was an improvement. As this century began, Houston took the unwanted title of America’s smog capital from Los Angeles, a sign of the region’s growing industries and traffic. Since then, our community, with the help of stronger federal safeguards, has made significant advances in air quality, allowing us to drop to No. 12 in the American Lung Association’s latest ranking of most polluted cities.

As the coughing and burning lungs from last year painfully remind us, Houston is still suffering from a public health problem that we cannot pretend is in our rear-view mirror. We must face the reality: There is a lot more work to do bring our air into compliance with health-based standards.

Read More »

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

Why Honeycutt is such an alarming choice for EPA's science advisory panel

Michael Honeycutt – the man set to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Science Advisory Board – has spent most of his career as a credentialed counterpoint against almost anything the EPA has proposed to protect human health.

Fortunately, his lone voice for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rarely carried beyond the Lone Star State. Until now.

The EPA science advisory panel Honeycutt will chair is supposed to provide the agency with independent scientific expertise on a wide range of issues. In a highly unusual move, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt picked the Texan for the job even though he has never been a member of the board.

More than Honeycutt’s inexperience, however, what worries me most is his faulty logic and what this means for science at the EPA. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Ozone / Comments are closed