Clearing the Air About the Air in Texas

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but after a series of public statements from Governor Perry and his appointed officials, I thought it was time to jump back into the game and clear some of the recent mis-statements about Texas air quality. Texas officials have said that the air in Texas is cleaner than any other state in the country and that it’s due to the state’s environmental policies. But is that true?

I don’t think so, and here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Texas continues to have some of the highest ozone concentrations in the country. Twelve other non-attainment counties have made larger ozone reductions than Harris County and 68 other non-attainment counties have made more progress than Dallas County.
  • Texas continues to be number one in emissions of many of the most serious pollutants, including: nitrogen oxides (a precursor to ozone), carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter (PM10), and mercury from power plants. Read more here.
  • The state environmental agency in Texas (TCEQ) released a report earlier this year outlining areas around the state where the pollution levels for air toxics exceed the state’s own screening guidelines. Only four of the 13 areas around the state listed are showing any improvement. The other nine are static or getting worse. Some of these areas have been on the air pollution watch list for more than a decade.

Even at a recent Clean Air Forum in Houston, city, county, and industry officials agreed that much more needs to be done toward clearing the air in Texas. And over the last several months, more than a thousand people have shown up at town halls throughout Texas to discuss the state’s audit of how TCEQ is managed. How can we say that we are doing a great job when so many people seem to have serious problems with how we are taking – or not taking – care of the environment?

So, let’s put our progress in some context and not put sound bites ahead of the facts. Yes Texas, solving the air pollution problem is a daunting challenge and yes Texas, we can do better. Our health depends on it.

Side Note: I wanted to correct a mis-statement of my own. During the Clean Air Forum, I mentioned that EPA had publicly released guidance on greenhouse gas regulations. It was actually released a few days later. If you still haven’t seen it, you can find it here. Also helpful to read are FAQs regarding the guidance.

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