Texas Clean Air Matters

Why accurate reporting of air pollution after Hurricane Harvey matters

Hartmann Park, Valero Refinery, Manchester County, Houston Texas.

In addition to dumping historic amounts of rain across southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey triggered a wave of air pollution, with petrochemical plants and oil refineries releasing 8.3 million pounds of harmful chemicals that exceeded state limits. At least, that is what they told state officials.

Companies, however, reduced those estimates by 1.7 million pounds in later filings with the state, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

The steep drop suggests that some companies may not have accounted accurately for all Harvey-related pollution increases in their reporting to the state. As a result, people’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, may be substantially underestimated.

Industry frequently justified the changes in emissions estimates by arguing that flexible state-issued permits, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s suspension of several environmental rules in advance of Harvey, made the pollution legal. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, TCEQ, Texas Permitting, 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:

Read More »

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

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 Air Pollution, Clean Air Act / Comments are closed

New Texas Permian oil and gas flaring report reveals excessive gas waste and major gaps in operator flaring practices

As companies flock to West Texas’ Permian Basin to cheaply drill for and extract oil and gas, some operators are flooding the night sky with natural gas flares, polluting the air with unhealthy and climate-altering pollutants, and wasting copious amounts of this important, domestic energy resource.

The Permian Basin, which stretches across 75,000 square miles in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, is in the midst of one of the largest energy booms of the century. An estimated 60-70 billion barrels of recoverable oil is located in the area, which is worth roughly $3.3 trillion at current prices, according to IHS Markit. Oil isn’t the only resource in abundant supply. EIA estimates that operators in the Permian are producing 7.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. But a rush to produce higher value oil has some Permian drillers simply flaring the gas instead of investing in gathering and pipeline infrastructure.

A new EDF flaring report, released this week, has uncovered a wide discrepancy between flaring rates among the top 15 oil and gas producers working in the Texas Permian Basin. Some of the oil and gas producers studied in the report are wasting close to 10 percent of their produced gas due to flaring practices, highlighting the fact that the oil and gas industry continues to struggle to control natural gas waste. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Flare emissions, Methane, Natural gas, Oil / Comments are closed

Wheels in motion for VW to compensate Texas for dirty air

Texas is set to receive $209 million as part of the legal settlement for Volkswagen’s decade-long scheme to cheat on diesel emissions tests in the United States and elsewhere. That is because the German automaker sold more than 40,000 non-compliant vehicles in the state, resulting in Texans breathing dirtier air.

The money is for projects that reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It is in addition to civil penalties and other legal settlements, which include an agreement for the company to invest in zero-emission, all-electric vehicle technology and infrastructure.

For Texas, the road to cleaner air began in early October. Here are three steps the state needs to take:

  1. Secure funding

Before Texas can receive its share of the money, it must become a beneficiary of the trust, which was set up to compensate states for the emissions-cheating scandal. This first step is also the easiest. It is a paperwork exercise in advance of the hard decisions. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean school buses, Drayage, Electric Vehicles, Goods Movement, Ports, TCEQ, Transportation / 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, Legislation, San Antonio / Comments are closed