Selected category: Texas Permitting

EDF Tracks Air Quality in Areas Removed from the Texas Air Pollutant Watch List

EDF’s Maia Draper co-wrote this post

We’ve written before about the Air Pollutant Watch List, a Texas program for addressing harmful air pollutants that pose a particularly high risk to public health.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adds areas to the Air Pollution Watch List where monitoring data show persistently high concentrations of air toxics above the state’s health-based guidelines for these substances.

Listing an area on the Air Pollution Watch List enables TCEQ to dedicate additional time and resources to reducing air toxic emissions in these areas. A listing can serve as an important tool for reducing dangerous air pollution and protecting public health.

However, since 2007, TCEQ has removed 14 monitored pollutants in 10 areas from the Air Pollution Watch List. TCEQ says that average concentration levels of air toxics in these areas no longer exceed state guidelines, and therefore that additional scrutiny and resources to encourage air quality improvements are no longer necessary.

TCEQ’s Air Pollution Watch List delisting decisions can be controversial, in part due to questions about whether air monitoring data are sufficient to support the delisting decision, and to what extent the Air Pollution Watch List label is still needed as a tool to deter high long-term emissions of harmful pollutants or short-term emissions spikes that can pose an immediate danger to public health.

To find out whether air quality improvements have persisted in areas that have been removed from the Air Pollution Watch List, EDF conducted a comprehensive analysis of air monitoring data for all Air Pollution Watch List areas delisted since the program’s inception.

Our analysis reveals several shortcomings in the way that TCEQ currently collects and reports these data, and recommends several crucial steps that TCEQ should take to better monitor emissions and protect public health in areas that have been removed from the Air Pollution Watch List.

Areas among 16 TCEQ regions that have been removed from the APWL. Source: TCEQ Air Monitoring Site Data. Map created using ArcGIS.

Among them:

  • Address short-term emissions spikes in delisted areas

For some areas that have been delisted, we found continuing exceedances of TCEQ’s recommended concentration levels for air toxics, suggesting that these areas have not adequately maintained the air quality improvements that led to their removal from the Air Pollution Watch List. In particular, while average annual concentration levels of air toxics for most areas are below TCEQ’s health-based threshold, there is wide variability in these levels throughout the year, indicating that short-term spikes in concentrations of harmful air pollutants continue to be a problem in these delisted areas, posing a potential threat to public health. TCEQ should take steps to address these short-term spikes.

  • Improve transparency of the Air Pollution Watch List program 

Our analysis also revealed problems with data transparency – air monitoring data for nine monitors located in the delisted Air Pollution Watch List areas analyzed in this report are not currently available to the public. We also recommend that TCEQ improve transparency about the investigative and enforcement actions it takes in response to violation of health-based pollution levels. Improving the transparency of all aspects of the Air Pollution Watch List program, including areas that have been removed from the list but still require ongoing monitoring, is a fundamental step needed to improve its effectiveness.

  • Improve accuracy of data collection and presentation to the public 

Our analysis also finds inconsistencies in TCEQ’s data collection and presentation protocols for hazardous air pollutants that undermine the accuracy of its air quality monitoring and data analysis. We propose ways for TCEQ to improve the precision and usefulness of its air quality monitoring data, in order to provide the public with a more accurate and complete assessment of air quality levels. In order to better protect public health, TCEQ should improve the precision and granularity of the data it uses as the basis for Air Pollution Watch List listing and delisting decisions.

Reducing emissions of air toxics is an important public health goal. Both short-term and long-term exposure to these emissions can cause severe adverse health effects, including respiratory distress, problems with the central nervous system, and cancer. At high levels, exposure to these toxics can even result in death.

The Texas Air Pollution Watch List system plays an important role in limiting human exposure to these dangerous compounds, which is why it is important for TCEQ to use rigorous and transparent data analysis before it decides to delist an area, and for it to continue to monitor these areas after delisting to safeguard against continued emissions of hazardous air pollutants in these areas.

You can read our full analysis here.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards| Leave a comment

Tragedy of the Commons in Texas: Citizens Lose if Bill Becomes Law

pollution-pixabayUpdate: Governor Abbott signed SB 709 into law on May 23, 2015.

I overheard a colleague last week say she was impressed a group of elementary school students were learning about the tragedy of the commons, and it reminded me of what's been going on at the Texas Legislature this session. The "tragedy of the commons" is a term coined in the late 60's by ecologist Garret Hardin, described as "a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each's self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource." It’s an unfortunate allegory for Texas politics and specifically the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 709, which is on its way to the governor’s desk as I write this.

In this case, a few individuals (polluting corporations and the lawmakers they fund) are acting in their self-interest, creating legislation that will get more money in their pockets faster. Unfortunately, the best interests of the whole group (all Texans) are virtually forgotten, and common resources like healthy air and water will suffer. The final bill, SB 709 sponsored by Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), shows Texas' leadership cares more about protecting big polluters at the expense of its citizens.

And while Sen. Fraser’s bill was the one that ultimately passed, the companion measure in the House, House Bill 1865, by Representative Genie Morrison (R-Victoria) included the same agenda and language. Rep. Morrison is from Victoria, Texas. As someone who is supposed to be fighting for the best interests of her constituents, many in Victoria are questioning just whom Morrison and other Texas lawmakers represent. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ| Comments are closed

One Year Later: Texas Environmental Agency Fails to Address Public Comments on Pollution in Texas City

This post was co-authored by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director. 

rp_Estimated-Distribution-of-Benzene-Annual-Concentration-Based-on-Retrieved-Primary-Source-Location-and-Wind-Direction-Frequency-300x179.jpg

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 »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Particulate Matter, TCEQ| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

One Year Later: Calls for Common Sense Oversight in the Wake of West Tragedy Go Unanswered

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

This past Thursday marked one year since a fire caused a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas to explode, killing 15 people, injuring over 300, and scaring a small Texas town forever. Since the West tragedy shocked Texas and the nation, it has become increasingly clear that the explosion could have been prevented had common-sense regulations—like a statewide fire code—been in place. Nevertheless, Texas leaders and state officials have failed to propose, much less adopt, a single common sense safeguard to prevent future tragedies. The anniversary of the West explosion reminds us of the urgent need for proactive measures to prevent a disaster of this magnitude from happening again.

Even before the West explosion, there were a string of industrial accidents across the state over recent years, reminding us that Texas should be doing a better job at managing the industrial sector. Read More »

Posted in Texas Permitting| Tagged | Comments are closed

Time for Texas to Work With EPA To Secure Cleaner Air For All Texans

Elena QuoteLast Wednesday, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify at a House Science, Space, and Technology hearing entitled Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas. It was my first time testifying on Capitol Hill and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with some of our Texas lawmakers on issues concerning the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas.

One item of discussion focused on the greenhouse gas permitting authority in the state and the fact that Texas’ legal actions have thwarted industrial facilities in the state from conducting business. A recent article in the Texas Tribune, titled “Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry,” highlights the burden that a dual permitting process places on businesses seeking greenhouse gas permits.

The process, which requires industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, to apply to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, has proved onerous for industry. In the article, the Texas Pipeline Association says, “more than 50 planned projects since early 2011 have been significantly delayed by the [Texas] permitting process, putting 48,000 jobs at risk.” Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

The Irony of Texas Taking Over GHG Permitting Authority

This blog post was co-written by Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held its only public hearing regarding the agency’s proposed plan to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Neither the TCEQ commissioners nor the executive director attended the hearing.

TCEQ’s move to issue GHG permits is quite a departure from the extensive actions the Texas government has taken NOT to regulate greenhouse gases in the state. In fact, in a letter dated August 2, 2010 to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw used aggressive and robust language, declaring that:

“On behalf of the State of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.” Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ| Tagged , | Comments are closed
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