EDF Is Going to Court to Secure Healthier Air for Millions of Texans

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

This post was co-authored by Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow.

Source: Texas Tribune Haze over Dallas Area

Source: Texas Tribune
Haze over Dallas Area

Last week, EDF took one more step toward protecting Texans from harmful levels of ozone pollution that have afflicted the state for far too long.

Ozone pollution, better known as “smog,” is one of the most severe and persistent public health problems affecting Texans.  Smog causes a range of health issues — including aggravation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, decreased lung function, increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory conditions — and it is associated with premature mortality in urban areas.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), Dallas-Fort Worth is the eighth most affected area in the country for smog.  ALA estimates the city is home to millions of people who are sensitive to ozone-related health problems — including 1.6 million people suffering cardiovascular disease; nearly 1.9 million children; nearly 650,000 elderly residents; and over 520,000 people with asthma.

EDF and its dedicated staff in Texas have long worked to protect Texans from unhealthy levels of smog by reducing the pollution that leads to harmful ozone levels.  Most recently, we have been litigating in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to secure important Clean Air Act protections in all areas that are contributing to the serious ozone problems in Dallas-Fort Worth. 

This litigation started in May 2012, when EPA determined which areas of the country met its 2008 ozone air quality standards and which did not.  As part of this process, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to determine which areas of the country “contribute” to air quality problems “nearby” — and to ensure those areas do their fair share in helping to restore healthy air.   Applying a rigorous analytical framework that has guided EPA’s decisions across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, EPA determined that Wise County, Texas contributes to unhealthy ozone levels in Dallas-Fort Worth and should be included in the same “nonattainment area” as the rest of the city.  EPA’s designation rested on extensive analyses of numerous factors, including nearby ozone monitors showing serious violations of air quality standards (including one monitor located just half a mile from the county line); high emissions of ozone-forming pollutants from Wise County, largely due to expanding oil and gas production; atmospheric modeling linking Wise County to areas of Dallas-Fort Worth suffering high ozone levels; and trends in population growth and vehicle traffic.

Instead of working constructively to reduce Wise County’s pollution and to restore healthy air for the children and families in Dallas-Fort Worth, the state of Texas and Wise County took EPA to court to oppose the designation.  Joining them were several representatives of the oil and gas industry, including the Texas Pipeline Association, the Gas Processors Association, Devon Energy and Targa Resources.  EDF, following its track record of protecting air quality in Texas and in Wise County, intervened in the litigation to support EPA’s well-founded determination.

On January 15, EDF filed a brief in the D.C. Circuit vigorously defending EPA’s decision against the various attacks leveled by the state, county and industry petitioners.  Our brief describes the compelling body of evidence supporting the Wise County designation, and explains how EPA’s analysis was fully consistent with the Clean Air Act.

We hope that state and industry officials move forward and carry out the array of cost-effective, proven solutions that can reduce emissions of ozone-forming pollutants from industrial sources, including oil and gas facilities.  These solutions are vital to making meaningful progress in restoring healthy air for children and families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  It is time to stop investing taxpayer dollars in litigation and to start working together to protect our children from harmful air pollution.

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