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, Legislation, 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, Legislation / 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, Ozone, Ports, Transportation / 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 Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency / Comments are closed

Talking TERP– The Texas Approach to Clean Air (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of: Texas House of Representatives

Photo courtesy of: Texas House of Representatives

Texas is home to many unique things – from the iconic Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Texas), we tend to do things a little differently from the rest of the country.

The same is true with how the state has decided to deal with an air pollution problem that was affecting many areas in the state years ago. Instead of requiring specific actions from businesses and others whose operations create air pollution, our business-friendly state took another tactic – we created a voluntary incentive program to pay for emission reductions.

It’s called the Texas Emissions Reductions Plan – or TERP for short. And it has worked surprisingly well. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency / Comments are closed

Part III: Flawed Logic at Texas Environmental Agency Results in Costly Lawsuits and Poor Public Health Policy

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rkimpeljr/209687857/in/photolist-jwGTT-sPNXn-b6WTeX-6Rcx6B-32dh5E-328Zf6-9LgCmw-b8zLCz-dCVDGi-aApWyE

There is robust agreement on the dangers of ozone pollution in the medical health community.

Part I of our series on ozone described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone. Part II reviewed recent research from leading Houston scientists that explains why more ozone pollution is harmful to our health. Part III explains how faulty logic and erroneous assumptions had led to costly lawsuits and poor public health policy across the state. Part IV will identify some solutions to Houston’s ozone problem and suggest measures to protect the health of Houston area residents.

There has been quite a bit of activity related to the proposed U.S. ozone regulations in the past year. As part of a four part series on ozone in 2015, we’d like to take the time to rebuke some of the scientifically-flawed testimony provided by state environmental officials, including Dr. Michael Honeycutt, toxicologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state environmental agency. We feel that the agency has presented health information in a way that is misleading and contradicts the robust opinion of the medical health community on the issue.

First, a little context is important. We at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have participated in the public process involving the ozone standard and provided testimony to Congress on the health effects of ozone exposure. TCEQ has challenged the health-based standards in an aggressive way, and their efforts have been fodder for expensive and frivolous lawsuits filed by the state. Read More »

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