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 Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, TCEQ, Uncategorized / 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 Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, TCEQ / Comments are closed

3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

Also posted in clean energy, Energy-Water Nexus / Tagged | Comments are closed

Smoggier Skies in Texas? No Thanks, Washington!

Before leaving for summer recess, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill, H.R. 806, that would sideline public health protections by changing the Clean Air Act fundamentally and delay important air quality protections. This so-called by changing the required review by EPA of standards from the current 5-year interval to 10 years.

In Texas, several of our metro areas already fail the health-based standards for ozone, including the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions. Now, some legislators in Washington, D.C., have put forward legislation that would put even more Texans at risk, since the new 2015 health-based ozone standard would likely have identified the San Antonio region, as well as Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, as areas requiring new clean air actions be taken. The 2015 ozone air quality standard was put forward after a lengthy scientific evaluation process that involved many in the public health, medical, and scientific communities. Delaying these standards to 2025 means delaying commonsense measures that safeguard the air we breathe.

It’s no surprise that this bill was opposed by more than a dozen organizations in the medical and public health community, including the National Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and the American Thoracic Society. Health effects from ground-level ozone can exacerbate respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For some in Texas, like the 1.4 million adult and 617,000 children statewide affected by asthma, air quality standards that protect against harmful levels of ground-level ozone can protect against life-threatening asthma attacks.

Texas only stands to lose when lawmakers in Washington weaken and delay important health protections. The “Smoggy Skies” bill has passed the House of Representatives, but hopefully, its fate in the Senate will be dead on arrival.

No thank you, Washington, Texans prefer clean air to breathe.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Dallas Fort-Worth, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Ozone, San Antonio / Comments are closed

Just like social causes, environmentalism is about putting people first

The 85th Texas Regular Legislative Session has drawn to a close. Now that we've had some time to digest what went down (and get some sleep), we can reflect. There is no doubt: This was a very hard Session. Emotions were high and lives were at stake.

Each Session ends up having themes or issues that remain high on the priority list throughout the five months legislators are in Austin. This year, the focus was on social issues, like transgender bathroom access and reproductive rights. And although the connection may not always be obvious, social issues are environmental issues, too.

All of these matters are fundamentally about people. When I fight for clean energy or water or taking action on climate change, I'm not doing it in a vacuum. We cannot disconnect these issues with the social issues we face in Texas and on a national scale right now. Immigration, health care, and education are all about protecting the most vulnerable among us and ensuring we treat each other with respect – and so is fighting for the environment. Read More »

Posted in Legislation / Comments are closed

Texas lawmakers, take note: The business case for clean air

Texas lawmakers are nearing the end of another legislative session. Before they leave Austin, though, there are two things that we would like them to do to improve air quality:

  1. They should extend the successful Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP, beyond 2019.
  2. They should fully fund the program.

This matters because the 16-year-old program works.

Last week, the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed on the importance of this program, co-authored by EDF’s Dr. Elena Craft and Nolan Richardson, president of Richardson Companies, Port Houston’s largest tenant.

Here is the bottom line – Clean air is good for business.

EDF supports this program because it has been an excellent investment for Texas.

We also remind lawmakers that there is work to do until every Texan has access to clean air. Cities and counties across the state continue to receive alerts for unhealthy air. Today is another bad ozone day for Dallas-Fort Worth and the eight-county Houston region.

We urge lawmakers to finish the job by extending TERP and using every cent collected for the program on its intended purpose.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Dallas Fort-Worth, Houston, Ozone / Comments are closed