Bill Would Obstruct Clean Air Act Protections

Air quality signboard indicating an ozone watch - Harris County Courthouse Annex 19 - Gulfton, Houston.

Air quality signboard indicating an ozone watch – Harris County Courthouse Annex 19 – Gulfton, Houston.

Earlier this year, close to 20 Texas counties received a grade of “F” from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution (up from 15 counties in 2013). Ozone is one of the most ubiquitous and harmful air pollutants on the planet and has been linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and other severe respiratory illnesses, as well as increased emergency room and hospital admissions. And it poses an especially serious risk to children, seniors and those with lung diseases like asthma and bronchitis.

If realized, a stronger public health standard for ozone would prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, avoid up to 21,000 hospitalizations and provide $100 billion in associated economic benefits.

Why then are Texas officials fighting tooth and nail against it?

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, joined by fellow Texas Republican Reps. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, Pete Sessions of Dallas, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, Kevin Brady of the Houston area, John Carter of Round Rock and Sam Johnson of Richardson, introduced a bill that would serve to obstruct health protections promised in the Clean Air Act. This bill would deny Texas cities, the state and the country from their right to strong public health protections.

This bill is even more aggressive than the one recently proposed by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, to consider the economic impact of the healthier ozone standard on industry. Interestingly, Weber and Olson represent areas with a notorious reputation for poor air quality.

So, what’s the root cause of these efforts to erode a bedrock Clean Air Act law? The idea that cleaner air will cost the fossil fuel industry and industrial sector more money – even though all evidence points to the contrary. In an analysis by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the agency has demonstrated that Houston’s GDP has actually increased while ozone concentrations have gone down. Further, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s cost-benefit analysis, covering a 30-year time span, shows that the Clean Air Act has returned benefits 30 times greater than the cost of implementation.

These latest attempts to serve as obstructionists in protecting healthy air simply adds to the long list of “sky is falling” rhetoric from Texas policymakers. Houston lawmakers and industry sounded the same story in the 1990s when EPA proposed refinery air pollution reductions, claiming facilities would have spent billions to comply, moved to other countries, or even ceased operations. Time and time again, EPA has implemented pollution reduction targets and industry has answered the call, in many cases making money by increasing the efficiency of operations and adopting new technologies.

EPA’s Clean Air Act standards have sparked industry to up the ante on efficiency and automation, effectively reducing harmful air pollution and improving the bottom line. The new ozone standard is no different. This is an opportunity to showcase American ingenuity, not call it quits and dig our heels in the ground.

Many of our Texas officials claim to support clean air, in spite of pursuing legislation to jeopardize it. But clean air doesn’t happen by itself. It takes hard work and vigilance to protect it. Texas officials like Weber and Olson are living in the Dark Ages by espousing opinions that we can’t have clean air and a healthy economy. America is smarter than these representatives would have us believe. Industry has proven time and again that it has the ingenuity to innovate and increase profits without sacrificing one of our most precious resources, clean air for all.

Take Action: Tell Texas Officials to Drop the Anti-Clean Air Agenda

This commentary originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on October 15, 2014. 

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