This commentary originally appeared in Air Alliance Houston's newsletter.
Isn't it time you said that to the EPA?
By: Adrian Shelley, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston
There are 149 oil refineries in the United States. Of those, 5 are located in Houston, with an additional 3 in both Port Arthur and Texas City. The refining industry is more than 100 years old, and some people might be surprised to learn that there is equipment operating in some of our refineries that is a century old as well. As you can imagine, a lot has changed in that century.
Regulations governing the refining industry have not kept up. You've probably heard by now about the Environmental Protection Agency's new Refinery Air Toxics Rule. You may even have seen announcements lately about a hearing on the rule to be held in Houston on August 5. The hearing is a unique opportunity to influence a landmark rule in the fight against refinery pollution.
Air Alliance Houston has been promoting the hearing since it was announced. Today, I'd like to take a few minutes to explain why YOU should attend the hearing. Read More
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott falls flat in flawed legal challenge against EPA
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of allowing EPA to require that large industrial sources of greenhouse gas pollution install the best available control technology when building or rebuilding plants that are also sources of other major air pollutants. This means that large cement plants, refineries, power plants, chemical facilities, and other industrial facilities must use modern emissions controls for climate pollution.
This is a big win for Texans who are hard hit by air pollution. Unfortunately, the state leads the nation in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and is home to several cities and communities with significant air quality challenges.
A 5-4 majority of the Court also held that EPA must narrow its permit program to avoid applying the program to many smaller sources that EPA itself had concluded would pose serious problems yet yield relatively small pollution mitigation benefits. But Justice Scalia recognized that EPA achieved an important victory for public health and clean air. While describing the outcome of the high Court’s decision from the bench, Justice Scalia stated that “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” Read More
By: Christina Wolfe, EDF's Ports & Transportation Analyst
Despite the well-known health risks from diesel emissions and the economic consequences of unhealthy air, clean air projects are often stalled because they lack money. Fortunately, funding options for transportation-related clean air initiatives are available at the national, regional, and state levels. One of the key national sources of funding has been the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DERA provides up to $100 million each year through 2016 for reducing emissions from existing diesel engines, and recently, EPA announced that roughly $9 million is available for agencies seeking to undergo clean diesel projects.
DERA typically funds replacement, repower, and retrofit projects for diesel vehicles and equipment to improve air quality and public health by reducing hazardous air pollutants, like particulate matter and smog-forming pollutants, among others. Through the Request for Proposals, eligible applications are required to have a partnership with a local government or metropolitan planning organization, a public or private fleet of vehicles or equipment, and other interested entities (e.g., technology providers, community groups, etc.). Because of these unique partnerships, DERA has been able to make federal dollars go even further. The DERA partnership approach attracts public and private funding that, when combined with federal funds, allow for more emissions reductions. Both partners stand to gain a great deal in the way of enhancing business operations and improving local health and are eager to participate. In the end, for each federal dollar awarded, as much as $3 from non-federal sources is added to the project, and together these funds provide up to $7 – $18 in public health benefits. Read More
Last month, Texas Governor Rick Perry penned an open letter to President Barack Obama criticizing the administration’s energy policy and urging the federal government to adopt the “Texas approach” to energy and environmental regulations. The letter stoked its fair share of controversy, prompting Politifact Texas to weigh in on Perry’s claims about Texas air pollution. Unsurprisingly, they found that Perry’s words were only a half-truth, masking the true state of air quality in Texas. With this post, I’ll unpack Perry’s claims, discuss the true state of the air in Texas, and suggest where the state should go from here.
In his letter, Perry claimed that, since 2000, Texas has reduced “harmful pollutants in the air like nitrogen oxide by 62.5 percent, and ozone by 23 percent—a reduction that is 12 percent greater than the national average.” Politifact deemed this statement more spin than substance for good reason; while Texas air quality has improved in recent years, Texas cities ranked among the worst in the nation for ozone and particulate matter in the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report. Both ozone and particulate matter pose a risk to human health, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially in children and the elderly. And because ozone forms more readily on hot, sunny days, Texas ozone season lasts for several months, increasing health risks for Texans exposed to pollution. While Texas air quality has improved, we still fair worse than most of the nation—it’s far too early for Rick Perry to claim victory over air pollution. Read More
Growth at the Port of Houston. Aftermath of the BP oil spill. Resiliency in the era of climate change. These are but three of the critical environmental justice issues facing communities in Texas and the South. Thriving in light of these challenges will require innovative partnerships and creative solutions – all of which were showcased at last week’s “Encuentro.” We first highlighted this influential event last week and a few members of EDF’s Texas office had the opportunity to attend. Organized by the Houston Peace and Justice Center and hosted by Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Encuentro brought together community leaders, environmental advocates, and energy and sustainability experts with a goal of advancing the environmental justice movement in the region.
In the face of grave challenges, there was a tremendous spirit of optimism as a panel of TSU graduate students kicked off the day with their insights on sustainable communities and the power of participatory research. Renowned experts, such as Dr. Robert Bullard and Dr. Al Armendariz, deepened the resolve of Encuentro participants with their eye-opening analysis of some of society’s most entrenched and complex challenges. For example, a zip code is still the most accurate predictor of health. Where you grew up and where you live are closely associated with environmental quality and health outcomes. This means that fence-line communities, like Manchester, TX which neighbors a large rail yard, major highways, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and a car crushing facility, are in a precarious and often dire situation. This stark reality is what drives Encuentro and all of the efforts to improve environmental and public health. Read More
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 Dr. Denae King, research associate professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, and Juan Parras, founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.
Source: Houston Peace and Justice Center
Encuentro in Spanish means meeting, awareness, or encounter, but in this instance it is the title of an environmental justice event. Environmental Justice (EJ) is 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. The goals for this event are to bring conservation groups and residents most affected by severe environmental health risks together to foster a dialog around the EJ movement. Encuentro also seeks to enlighten Houstonians with an understanding that environmental injustices suffered by "fence-line" communities affect all Houstonians. Through this discussion, Houstonians can identify and pool the resources needed to help improve environmental quality, public health, and the well-being of local families and neighbors.
Next Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17, community leaders, environmental advocates, and energy and sustainability experts will convene at Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs for the “2014 Encuentro.” The ideas and strategies to be presented at this year’s Encuentro build upon a rich history of the Environmental Justice movement in the Houston region. 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
This post was co-authored by Elena Craft, Ph.D., Senior Health Scientist, and Kate Zerrenner, Clean Energy Project Manager.
Source: Austin American Statesman
Early this week, the White House released the third National Climate Assessment (NCA). What’s the main take away? That Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change.
The NCA, authored by 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, analyzes the best available data in the U.S. on the observed and future impacts of climate change, and organizes its findings for specific sectors and regions. Texas falls under the Great Plains region and the state’s bustling economy includes many industries that will be affected by a changing climate, such as agriculture and energy. Our water, ecosystems, transportation, and more will also be affected. It is clear from this report that heat and drought will intensify in Texas, putting energy, agriculture, and human health at increased risk. State leaders need to enact policies now to protect us and our livelihoods. 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