EPA’s decision to grant the Houston region a new deadline to meet clean air standards may delay air pollution mitigation measures.
Last year was a troubling one for Houston air quality. Some areas recorded ozone concentrations not seen since the early 2000s. Overall, more than half of the regional monitors recorded smog at levels that exceeded the 2008 national health standard for at least four days. This unhealthy air affects everyone, but vulnerable populations such as the young and the elderly are especially susceptible to health effects of poor air quality, including asthma and lung disease.
This is why EPA’s recent decision to grant the Houston region a one-year extension to meet the federal health standards represents a missed opportunity for clean air action. The original deadline for Houston to meet the 2008 health standard was July 2015. Often, EPA grants extensions to areas that are close to attaining the standard. In this case, Houston’s air quality had been improving but took a significant step in the wrong direction last year with a large number of exceedance days.
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By: Martha Roberts, Attorney, U.S. Climate Legal and Regulatory Program
Pop quiz: what do these cities have in common?
- Boise, Idaho
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Houston, Texas
- Knoxville, Tennessee
- Reno, Nevada
The answer may surprise you.
These cities have joined a coalition of 54 cities, counties, and mayors to file an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief to support the Clean Power Plan — our nation’s first-ever standards to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants – against litigation brought by some of our nation’s largest polluters and their allies.
These 54 cities joined six additional major municipalities that filed in support of the Clean Power Plan as intervenors in the case.
In total, sixty municipalities are on record supporting the Clean Power Plan as sensible, cost-effective clean air measures that will deploy innovative climate solutions and protect millions of Americans from adverse impacts. It’s yet another example showing that support for the Clean Power Plan covers our whole country.
Power companies, state and local officials in forty-one states are also supporting the Clean Power Plan in court – either through their attorney general’s office, a local power company, or a municipality. Read More
In terms of clean energy, Texas is incredibly resource-rich. And as our wind progress shows, we have begun to maximize that potential: A new report from the American Wind Energy Associations shows the Lone Star State leads the nation with over 24,000 wind energy employees.
How did Texas arrive at the forefront of the wind energy economy? One factor that undoubtedly played a vital role: the creation of an ahead-of-its-time policy tool that required the identification of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), as well as the construction of transmission lines to move energy from the CREZ to electric customers.
Since West Texas has plentiful wind but not as many people, this initiative aimed to transport that wind energy to populous cities throughout the state. The rules allow the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) to designate an area with abundant renewable energy as a CREZ, and then approve new transmission lines or improvements to existing ones. In 2008, the PUCT exercised this authority and the resulting power lines – completed in 2014 – stretch nearly 3,600 miles, moving clean, renewable energy across the state while improving the overall reliability of the electric grid.
However, despite these successes, the PUCT recently proposed to dismantle the rules related to CREZ and the approval of new transmission lines, which would be a significant affront to the state’s thriving wind industry – including the revenue and jobs that come with it. Right now, there are no proposals to expand the designation of CREZ and develop additional power lines to those zones. But with the rapidly changing energy landscape, it makes more sense for state leaders to maintain CREZ capabilities in their toolkit, rather than undoing a successful energy development policy. Read More
It seems too early in the year to worry about smog, right? Ozone is typically thought of as just a summertime problem. Unfortunately, not this year – and the health risks are troubling.
March 1 marked the beginning of ozone season in Houston – and April 3 was the first day in 2016 that a regulatory ozone monitor in Houston measured above 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is the level of the health standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No other official air monitor in the state had recorded levels above 70ppb, meaning Houston is winning the early race for unhealthiest Texas air – which isn’t winning at all.
While stratospheric ozone plays a beneficial role by absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays, not all ozone is considered “good.” Ground-level ozone is a form of pollution, also known as smog, which can result in dangerous consequences for public health such as asthma attacks, and heart and lung disease. Read More
When the President announced the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants last year, he recognized that this policy would not only reduce carbon pollution, but it would boost the development of a clean energy economy that is driving growth and prosperity across the nation.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings are among the many leaders who recognize this opportunity in the Clean Power Plan. The mayors know that states and cities that join the race first, and run it the fastest, will win both more investment in clean technologies and less air pollution for their communities.
Of course, we will all benefit by reducing the impacts of climate change – including extreme heat, dangerous sea level rise, and more powerful storms. That fact was reinforced by new research released last week highlighting that sea-level rise may be happening almost twice as fast as the worst case prediction made by the United Nations just a few years ago. Read More
In new footage captured just weeks ago, an ominous cloud of what looks like black smoke seeps from a pump jack deep in the heart of a Texas oil field. But there are no fire trucks rushing to the scene. No first responders in hazmat suits scrambling to uncover the source of this relentless dark cloud. This is because that black smoke depicted is actually methane, an invisible but dangerous climate pollutant.
If this scene looks familiar, it’s because not long ago, footage of a major methane gas leak in Southern California also made international headlines. That leak has since been plugged, but as the new infrared footage released today reveals, every single day methane continues to leak in massive quantities from oil and gas facilities across the country and here in Texas. Read More