Texas Clean Air Matters

How Texas plans to use the VW settlement

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently released its draft plan for the state’s $209 million share of the settlement from Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scheme. The money is meant to help offset the additional air pollution released by Volkswagen (VW) cars after the German automaker admitted that it had used illegal software to cheat on emissions tests. In Texas, VW sold more than 40,000 vehicles that emitted up to 40 times the federal emissions standard for lung-damaging nitrogen oxides (NOx).

This post provides an initial look at TCEQ’s draft plan. Future posts will explore how effective the proposed projects could be for reducing air pollution and protecting human health. Read More »

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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, Ozone, Texas Permitting, Uncategorized / Comments are closed

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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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