Selected category: Air Pollution

EDF Tracks Air Quality in Areas Removed from the Texas Air Pollutant Watch List

EDF’s Maia Draper co-wrote this post

We’ve written before about the Air Pollutant Watch List, a Texas program for addressing harmful air pollutants that pose a particularly high risk to public health.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adds areas to the Air Pollution Watch List where monitoring data show persistently high concentrations of air toxics above the state’s health-based guidelines for these substances.

Listing an area on the Air Pollution Watch List enables TCEQ to dedicate additional time and resources to reducing air toxic emissions in these areas. A listing can serve as an important tool for reducing dangerous air pollution and protecting public health.

However, since 2007, TCEQ has removed 14 monitored pollutants in 10 areas from the Air Pollution Watch List. TCEQ says that average concentration levels of air toxics in these areas no longer exceed state guidelines, and therefore that additional scrutiny and resources to encourage air quality improvements are no longer necessary.

TCEQ’s Air Pollution Watch List delisting decisions can be controversial, in part due to questions about whether air monitoring data are sufficient to support the delisting decision, and to what extent the Air Pollution Watch List label is still needed as a tool to deter high long-term emissions of harmful pollutants or short-term emissions spikes that can pose an immediate danger to public health.

To find out whether air quality improvements have persisted in areas that have been removed from the Air Pollution Watch List, EDF conducted a comprehensive analysis of air monitoring data for all Air Pollution Watch List areas delisted since the program’s inception.

Our analysis reveals several shortcomings in the way that TCEQ currently collects and reports these data, and recommends several crucial steps that TCEQ should take to better monitor emissions and protect public health in areas that have been removed from the Air Pollution Watch List.

Areas among 16 TCEQ regions that have been removed from the APWL. Source: TCEQ Air Monitoring Site Data. Map created using ArcGIS.

Among them:

  • Address short-term emissions spikes in delisted areas

For some areas that have been delisted, we found continuing exceedances of TCEQ’s recommended concentration levels for air toxics, suggesting that these areas have not adequately maintained the air quality improvements that led to their removal from the Air Pollution Watch List. In particular, while average annual concentration levels of air toxics for most areas are below TCEQ’s health-based threshold, there is wide variability in these levels throughout the year, indicating that short-term spikes in concentrations of harmful air pollutants continue to be a problem in these delisted areas, posing a potential threat to public health. TCEQ should take steps to address these short-term spikes.

  • Improve transparency of the Air Pollution Watch List program 

Our analysis also revealed problems with data transparency – air monitoring data for nine monitors located in the delisted Air Pollution Watch List areas analyzed in this report are not currently available to the public. We also recommend that TCEQ improve transparency about the investigative and enforcement actions it takes in response to violation of health-based pollution levels. Improving the transparency of all aspects of the Air Pollution Watch List program, including areas that have been removed from the list but still require ongoing monitoring, is a fundamental step needed to improve its effectiveness.

  • Improve accuracy of data collection and presentation to the public 

Our analysis also finds inconsistencies in TCEQ’s data collection and presentation protocols for hazardous air pollutants that undermine the accuracy of its air quality monitoring and data analysis. We propose ways for TCEQ to improve the precision and usefulness of its air quality monitoring data, in order to provide the public with a more accurate and complete assessment of air quality levels. In order to better protect public health, TCEQ should improve the precision and granularity of the data it uses as the basis for Air Pollution Watch List listing and delisting decisions.

Reducing emissions of air toxics is an important public health goal. Both short-term and long-term exposure to these emissions can cause severe adverse health effects, including respiratory distress, problems with the central nervous system, and cancer. At high levels, exposure to these toxics can even result in death.

The Texas Air Pollution Watch List system plays an important role in limiting human exposure to these dangerous compounds, which is why it is important for TCEQ to use rigorous and transparent data analysis before it decides to delist an area, and for it to continue to monitor these areas after delisting to safeguard against continued emissions of hazardous air pollutants in these areas.

You can read our full analysis here.

Also posted in Clean Car Standards, Texas Permitting| Leave a comment

Another Industry-Funded Lobbyist Tapped by Trump?

From a video wherein Ms. White discusses the "benefits" of carbon pollution.

By: Keith Gaby, Senior Communications Director – Climate, Health, and Political Affairs

For the top White House environmental position, Director of the Council on Environmental Quality, President Trump is considering Kathleen Hartnett White. She’s a registered lobbyist, and is currently with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an advocacy group funded in large part by the energy industry. She seems to have spent most of her time there spreading “alternative facts” on air pollution and climate change.

As my colleague Jeremy Symons wrote when White was considered to lead EPA, she has long been a critic of the EPA’s efforts to reduce toxic air pollution such as soot and mercury. In a 2016 op-ed for The Hill she attacked the agency for pursuing standards to reduce air pollution from fossil fuels. Read More »

Also posted in Environmental Protection Agency, TPPF| Leave a comment

As Oil and Gas Industry Goes Big in the Permian, Efforts to Tackle Emissions Will Be Telling

By Jon Goldstein and Ben Ratner

Much ink has been spilled recently about big new oil and gas investments in the Permian Basin across West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. What some are dubbing “Permania” includes a more than $6 billion investment by ExxonMobil in New Mexico acreage and an almost $3 billion one by Noble Energy across the border in Texas, among others. But a large question remains: will these types of big bets also come with the needed investments to limit methane emissions?

It’s not just an academic question. The answer will go a long way toward revealing if industry actors plan to operate in a way that serves the best interest of local communities and taxpayers. Unfortunately, New Mexico is currently the worst in the nation for waste of natural gas resources from federal lands (such as those that are found in large parts of the state’s Permian Basin). Largely avoidable venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas from these sites also puts a big hole in taxpayers’ wallets, robbing New Mexico taxpayers of $100 million worth of their natural gas resources every year and depriving the state budget of millions more in royalty revenue that could be invested in urgent state needs like education.

Read More »

Also posted in Methane, Natural gas, Oil, Uncategorized| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Texas Lawmakers Are Holding a Billion Dollars of Clean Air Funds Hostage

Houston skyline

What do you think that healthy communities, opportunities for businesses to expand, and diesel engines have in common?

The answer: in Texas, they’re tied together through a successful voluntary program called the Texas Emissions Reductions Plan (TERP).

TERP helps our state by:

  1. Working toward making sure all Texans breathe clean air
  2. Supporting business growth by ensuring that both Clean Air Act requirements are met and that businesses can attract talent to Texas
  3. Modernizing heavy-duty vehicle and equipment fleets through incentives for replacing the oldest, most polluting vehicles and equipment with clean technologies

TERP has been heralded by many diverse cheerleaders. We have talked about TERP’s success (and areas for improvement) in the past on Texas Clean Air Matters, but we aren’t alone in our support for the program. In fact, the program’s achievements were recently mentioned by Secretary of Energy and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who talked about TERP during his confirmation hearing opening statement. The program is also supported by both the Texas Association of Business as a 2017 Legislative Priority, and the Texas Clean Air Working Group (comprised of many local government officials, including air quality planners and others) which advocates for full funding of the program. Read More »

Also posted in Dallas Fort-Worth, Houston, Legislation, San Antonio| Comments are closed

New Video Contest – Houston Teens Care about Clean Air

Environmental Defense Fund is working together with four local high schools on a new video contest about the value of clean air.

EDF is sponsoring the contest for students at four schools in Houston’s East End – Chavez, Furr, Galena Park and Milby.

Students at those schools can submit short videos about the health effects of air pollution in Houston. Winning videos will be eligible to receive prizes worth up to $2,500. Winning students will also have the opportunity to learn filmmaking, editing and post-production techniques from Houston-area filmmaking professionals.

 Student entry forms and video submission instructions are available at the participating schools.

Read More »

Also posted in Houston, Ozone, Ports| Comments are closed

Talking TERP– The Texas Approach to Clean Air (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of: Texas House of Representatives

Photo courtesy of: Texas House of Representatives

(In Part 1 of our series on the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, we provided an overview to the unique approach that Texas has taken to incentivize clean air under a voluntary program that “pays” participants to modernize their older engines and equipment. Today, in Part 2, we’ll consider whether the program has been a good investment in clean air for the state.)

What would you do with $2.4 billion dollars?

In Texas, we dedicated those funds to a program that would reduce emissions – the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP). That’s a serious investment in clean air by the Lone Star State (consider, for example, the cost of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium that came in at a mere $1.2 billion).

This year marks the program’s fifteen year anniversary, so it seems timely to take a look at whether TERP has returned a good investment for the State of Texas.

What makes an investment “good”? A standard answer is that a good investment is one that achieves your goals, whether they are financial, health-related, or some other goal. TERP was created with five statutory objectives, summarized in the Texas Health and Safety Code: Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ| Comments are closed
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