Houston gets an extension on meeting air standards, but for what purpose?

houston skyline 4.19.16

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.

Why Does it Matter?

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The extension – Houston’s new deadline to meet clean air standards is July 2016 – serves no useful purpose in reducing harmful smog and may delay air pollution mitigation measures that are needed in a region continuing to experience challenges such as significant population growth. Local industrial growth, including at the Port of Houston, adds to the need to step up action to reduce air pollution.

Growth, combined with a strengthened national health standard for ozone, means that Houston should be ramping up efforts to clean the air instead of delaying implementation of clean air projects. 2016 has started with smoggy skies. We encourage local and regional leaders, including EPA, to work diligently toward implementation of air quality plans that will reduce pollutions and provide meaningful public health benefits.

image credit: Bjoern/flick.com

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