Matagorda County: The Debate over the Non-Attainment Designation for Ozone



In December of last year, EPA issued a federal register notice recommending a non-attainment status for a number of counties around the country that do not meet the federal standard for ozone, a harmful air pollutant. These areas represent counties where concentrations of ozone exceed the health-based standard for ozone set by EPA or where emissions from the county have been shown to contribute to non-attainment in a nearby county.

The issue has become a hot topic in the Houston area because of EPA’s recent proposal to include Matagorda County as a non-attainment county.

Arguments used by the EPA to include Matagorda contend that emissions from the county are contributing to Houston’s non-attainment status include:

  • Emissions inventory from Matagorda County  
  •  Air modeling data indicates that air over the Matagorda County region does end up in Houston some portion of the time

Arguments used by state and local officials that Matagorda County should not be listed as a non-attainment area include:

  • The emissions inventory information used by EPA does not match the inventory collected by the TCEQ
  • Air modeling data indicates that air over the Matagorda County region ends up in Houston only a small portion of the time

A recent radio interview on KTRH featured Dr. Matthew Tejada, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston and Matagorda County Judge Nate MacDonald provided insight into the opposing views of this contentious issue.

The broadcast suggested that the non-attainment issue is another example of over-reach by the federal government and that the EPA designation of Matagorda County as non-attainment would simply be used as a back-stop to prevent the proposed White Stallion Coal Plant from being built in Matagorda County.

While much time was dedicated to debating conspiracy theories during the broadcast, it was unfortunate that the heart of the issue was not discussed nor any thought-leadership provided on the critical issue. Ozone is an air pollutant that is regulated by the EPA because of its negative impact on human health.  The EPA is mandated to set standards for pollutants, like ozone, as part of the Clean Air Act. The state of Texas spends over $700 million dollars a year to treat asthma, just one of the tragic diseases known to be exacerbated by ozone.

Ultimately, EPA is the final authority on the issue of non-attainment. Instead of playing into conspiracy theories and political shenanigans promoted by broadcasters, I think time would be better spent discussing how we can clean the region’s air from toxic pollution, not fighting about who is or is not responsible.

While TCEQ hasn’t officially announced a comment period, you can send your input to the agency regarding the Matagorda non-attainment issue; TCEQ will provide its final comments to the Governor at the end of February.

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