Big Bend National Park Source: flikr/MarcusCalderon
The vistas at some of Texas’ natural treasures, like Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, aren’t the same as they used to be. Right now seven coal-fired power plants in Texas are emitting such large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants that they are obstructing visibility, causing what’s known as “regional haze.” That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a public hearing in Austin to take comments on its plan to restore visibility in these parks, as well as the Wichita Falls National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, since Texas’ dirty power plant emissions also affect our neighbor to the north. EPA is focusing its attention on Texas, in particular, after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed an unreasonable plan to restore “natural visibility” in the parks by 2155 (140 years from now!). Frankly put, waiting until 2155 to restore natural visibility in our national parks is not an acceptable course of action from the TCEQ, as Texas is required to show “reasonable progress” toward a national goal of restoring visibility by 2064. Texas should step up as a leader to keep our state a great place to live by prioritizing public and environmental health, while building out our robust renewable energy sector and supporting clean technologies that don’t obstruct our health or views.
Fortunately, EPA proposes to ensure that Texas meets the regional haze requirements through an alternative plan that will provide improved visibility in these areas, as well as health benefits: Read More
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a proposal to update our national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, more commonly known as smog, from the current 75 parts per billion level to 65 to 70 parts per billion. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to asthma attacks and other serious heart and lung diseases. That’s why EPA is also seeking comments on establishing a health standard of 60 parts per billion, a level that would provide the strongest public health protections for Americans according to scientific record. But despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of the health benefits of a more protective ozone standard, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), publicly opposes it.
Sixty to 70 parts per billion is the health-based range recommended by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of the nation’s leading scientists. The panel of scientists formed its recommendation based on an examination of bedrock scientific evidence and the requirement under the law to protect those most vulnerable.
In deconstructing TCEQ’s position on ozone, one can focus on a few key elements that stray from the mainstay of accepted public health principles:
Flaring in Eagle Ford Shale
The Texas Tribune recently published a piece debunking some of the science behind the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) position on the national health standard for ozone – one of the most ubiquitous and harmful air pollutants on the planet. As outlined in the agency’s latest newsletter, TCEQ’s Director of Toxicology, Mike Honeycutt, questions the benefits of a stronger standard, even though public health experts across the country have been calling for a more protective standard for years. What’s more disappointing than the agency’s apparent anti-health position, however, is the lack of attention to other legitimate air pollution issues in Texas.
It would seem that the agency must have a surplus of staff, as well as unlimited resources to establish such an aggressive position on a standard that hasn’t been proposed yet. The reality is that there are so many more important things that the agency could and should be doing to serve and protect Texas citizens from real air pollution threats, including: 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
Well site located in Eagle Ford Shale play
Late last week, the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) released a report outlining emission projections from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play, the most active drilling area in the country right now. Under the moderate drilling activity scenario, projections of air pollutants are expected to quadruple in the next four years. Even though this seems like a staggering prediction, it is likely an underestimation, given certain emissions are not accounted for in the inventory.
What does the report say?
The report assesses the emissions from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play and projects air pollution under three different development scenarios: low, moderate, and aggressive. Projections over the next several years indicate that we can expect substantial increases in smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide. Read More
Source: Dallas Observer
A new study accepted for publication in Environmental Science & Technology takes a close look at the amount of certain air pollutants in the Barnett Shale, a booming oil and gas region in North Texas. Using public monitoring data from 2010-2011, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin compared air pollution levels measured at a monitor surrounded by oil and gas operations to the levels that would be expected based on available emission estimates. The result brings to light that the emissions inventory from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the Barnett Shale does not add up to the observations.
There are numerous air pollutants that can be emitted by oil and natural gas development. Depending on the local composition of the produced gas, emissions can often include volatile organic compounds (VOC, such as propane, butane, pentane, etc.) that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (also known as smog), and toxic air pollutants like benzene and hexane that are directly hazardous to human health. Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas catching lots of attention these days, is another powerful pollutant associated with these operations. Unlike the pollutants listed above, methane directly affects the health of our climate rather than human health. Fortunately, available technologies designed to capture methane are also effective in reducing these other pollutants. However, methane controls alone may not ensure that local air quality concerns are addressed – these require special attention. Read More