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
This year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is celebrating the 10 year anniversary of its SmartWay program, a voluntary program created to help freight companies move more goods across more miles without the extra emissions. Texas boasts more than 180 SmartWay partners and affiliates, including Dell, AT&T, and BNSF Railway to name a few, that have made a commitment to improve fuel efficiency, reduce diesel consumption, and increase sustainability along transportation routes. These pledges have turned into action as SmartWay partners across the nation have saved $16.8 billion in fuel costs, reduced oil consumption by more than 120.7 million barrels, and reduced 51.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide across the nation – that’s equivalent to taking over 10 million cars off the road every year. Read More
Today marks the second in a series of clean air court victories that are nothing less than triumphant for air quality and health in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a clean air standard that will protect the health of Americans across 28 Eastern states, including Texas, from the harmful air pollution emitted by distant power plants that moves across state borders. For Texas, the nation’s number one emitter of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and the number two emitter of sulfur dioxide (SO2), these vital clean air protections will safeguard the health of our children and elderly and revoke the coal industry’s free license to pollute without limitation, shielding neighboring states from lethal particulate matter and smog-forming pollution. Not to mention, today’s decision (once again) proves that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s crusade to dismantle EPA’s common sense standards is fruitless, wastes taxpayer’s dollars, and jeopardizes the public health of all Texans.
Much like the life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), upheld earlier this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals, CSAPR will reduce sulfur dioxide levels from power plants in eastern power plants by 73% and nitrogen oxide levels by 54% from 2005 levels. The emissions reductions from CSAPR alone will save up to 1,704 lives in Texas and provide the state with $5.8 to $14 billion annually in health benefits starting in 2014. Despite these substantial health benefits, the State of Texas challenged the rule to prevent a handful of coal plants from switching to low-sulfur coal, increasing scrubber efficiency, or installing readily-available pollution-control technology. Read More
Source: Texas Tribune Haze over Dallas Area
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As bluebonnets dot the Texas highways signaling the arrival of spring and summer, concerns about ozone pollution also begin to surface. March 1 marks the official start of ozone season in the Dallas Metroplex and in Greater Houston. Other metro areas, including Austin and San Antonio, mark April 1 as their start date. Ozone forecast season ends for most areas on October 31, but in Houston it lasts through November 30. Ozone season is nothing to celebrate, but this primer can help get you up to speed on the basics of ozone pollution and what you can do to improve air quality and protect the health of your family.
What is ozone? Ground-level ozone is the main component of smog and is the single most widespread air pollutant in the United States. Ozone pollution forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (primarily released from combustion of fossil fuels, like car exhaust) react with heat and sunlight. Texas’ combination of heavy industrial activity, hot summers, and millions of cars on the road increases the potential for generation of harmful levels of ozone. Read More