Texas Clean Air Matters

Wheels in motion for VW to compensate Texas for dirty air

Texas is set to receive $209 million as part of the legal settlement for Volkswagen’s decade-long scheme to cheat on diesel emissions tests in the United States and elsewhere. That is because the German automaker sold more than 40,000 non-compliant vehicles in the state, resulting in Texans breathing dirtier air.

The money is for projects that reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It is in addition to civil penalties and other legal settlements, which include an agreement for the company to invest in zero-emission, all-electric vehicle technology and infrastructure.

For Texas, the road to cleaner air began in early October. Here are three steps the state needs to take:

  1. Secure funding

Before Texas can receive its share of the money, it must become a beneficiary of the trust, which was set up to compensate states for the emissions-cheating scandal. This first step is also the easiest. It is a paperwork exercise in advance of the hard decisions. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Drayage, Electric Vehicles, Goods Movement, Ozone, Ports, TCEQ, Transportation / Comments are closed

Ozone Action Days: What Do They Really Mean

This post was written by guest blogger Deanna Altenhoff, Executive Director of CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas.

We are all familiar with the term “Ozone Action Day” and typically associate it with a hot summer day.  But what does it really mean?  The CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas, the only non-partisan, public/private organization in Central Texas exclusively focused on air quality improvement, explains the significance of ozone pollution – and what you can do to make a difference. The CLEAN AIR Force Board of Directors consists of 32 executives from both the public and private sector, including Dr. Elena Craft of the Environmental Defense Fund, united in the common goal of finding workable solutions for improving our region’s air quality. The CLEAN AIR Force is not about waiting for the federal government to tell us what to do to clean up our air; we’re about taking early action now to keep air quality decisions at the local level.

The CLEAN AIR Force oversees a number of voluntary air quality programs that serve the public and help to reduce ozone levels in the Central Texas region. Two examples of those programs are the Clean Air Partners Program and the Clean School Bus Program.  We help implement and coordinate the air quality improvement efforts of local businesses, governments and organizations through our Clean Air Partners Program and we help retrofit and replace older polluting school buses with newer cleaner technologies and implement anti-idling policies through our Clean School Bus Program.  Educating citizens on what they can do to reduce their emissions is also a key part of our mission.

Central Texas is considered near-nonattainment for ground-level ozone under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The ozone standard is currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb) and the Central Texas Design Value for 2012 was 74 ppb. Despite two new and lower ozone standards in the past 16 years and a doubling of the population in the last 22 years, Central Texas has been able to avoid nonattainment because of positive weather conditions and the many pro-active air quality efforts our region is making, but there are many challenges ahead.

EPA has announced they may lower the existing standard of 75 ppb to 60-70 ppb by the end of 2013. This means we must continue to work together as a region to significantly lower our ozone emissions or risk being designated as nonattainment, which would negatively impact both public health and the health of our economy.

So what’s so bad about ozone health-wise? Ozone is a form of oxygen that is formed through chemical reactions between natural and man-made emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight.  Sources of VOCs and NOx include automobiles, boats, refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, solvents used in dry cleaners and paint shops, and wherever natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, and oil are combusted.

Ozone Season in Central Texas runs from April 1st to October 31st. Ozone pollution is mainly a daytime problem during summer months because warm temperatures are key to its formation. When temperatures are high, sunshine is strong, and winds are low, ozone can accumulate to unhealthy levels. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone / Comments are closed

2012 Texas Air Quality: A Year In Review

As we come to the end of another year, we reflect on all that has happened in the world of Texas air quality. This year has brought new challenges and reminded us of how much remains to be done in the quest for healthier air across the state. Our work is critical to the millions of those who are especially vulnerable to the harms of air pollution.

I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers for another outstanding year in helping to highlight the air quality issues of 2012 and for the continued support of all of our readers.  We look forward to bringing you more news and views in 2013. Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released updated standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), often referred to as “soot” (although it actually comprises a broader array of fine particles). Fine particulate pollution in the air we breathe — some of it directly emitted from cars and trucks, some of it resulting from factories and electric power plants hundreds of miles upwind – can lodge in the lungs and cause a variety of respiratory and pulmonary disease, especially in children and seniors. EDF praised the move, which will help secure healthy air for millions of Americans, including those in Houston where existing soot levels already exceed the new limits.

The State of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) once again fight against clean air rules that will save Texans’ lives. This time, it was the first-ever standards limiting the amount of mercury and other toxics power plants could emit. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will ensure that 90 percent of the mercury content in coal burned by power plants is not released into our air. TCEQ, the Texas attorney general, and others challenged the standards in court, saying that the toxic pollutants covered by the mercury standards do not “pose public health hazards.” The reality is that power plants in the U.S. are a major source of many toxics such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gas, and nickel. A report EDF released last year demonstrated that Texas had an oversized share of the top mercury emitting coal plants in the U.S. in 2009. We called on TCEQ and the state of Texas to stand up to harmful pollution instead of standing in the way of public health protections.

Clean school bus programs in Texas made significant progress toward improving air quality on our state’s school buses, though much work remains to be done according to an EDF analysis: “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?” The report highlighted the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and detailed the progress made with retrofits and replacements. With momentum from successes to date, the EDF report recommended that communities, ISDs, and government officials carry on the clean school bus momentum by continuing to seek funding for these types of projects; completing existing clean school bus projects; and investing in these projects through budget and legislative funding allocations. Again, work remains to be done to protect the health of Texas children and improve the air quality in and around school buses – until all of Texas’ oldest buses are either replaced or retrofitted.

Since 2009, the Drayage Loan Program (DLP) has worked to replace older, more polluting trucks in the Houston area with newer, cleaner trucks by providing critical funding and support to local independent owner operators and drayage fleets. The innovative program, administered by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and supported by the Port of Houston Authority, Environmental Defense Fund, and numerous drayage companies and truck dealerships, combines low-interest loans and substantial grants to fund the fleet turnover. The effort led to the successful replacement of 138 drayage trucks, engaged numerous drivers and carriers, and spent nearly the entire original EPA SmartWay grant. At full implementation, the program is expected to eliminate 1,638 tons of nitrogen oxide, 26.7 tons of particulate matter, and 3,636 tons of carbon dioxide. This represented an important step toward reducing air pollution in the Houston area.

With around 45,000 shale gas wells operating in the United States – triple the number in 2005 – people are rightfully concerned about the extent of the shale boom’s potential damage to the environment. The issue became the focal point of discussion during “Can Natural Gas Be Sustainable?,” a five-person panel presentation at the second annual SXSW Eco conference in Austin. As part of the panel, we discussed how stronger standards and employing best practices could minimize impacts of increased natural gas production in the wake of growing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of drilling. EDF continues to address the key problem areas associated with natural gas development: exposure to toxic chemicals and waste products; faulty well construction and design; climate impacts from methane leakage; local and regional air pollution; and land use and community impacts.

Clean air protections were threatened with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision against EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule (CSAPR). The rule estimated to reduce power plant emissions across state boundaries, saving up to 34,000 lives each year, preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 asthma attacks, and providing $120 to $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation. Issued under the “Good Neighbor” protections of the Clean Air Act, CSAPR would have reduced power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels across 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia. The ruling changed little about the facts on the ground in Texas. That is, cross-state air pollution from Texas will still be regulated under the – albeit somewhat weaker – Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) adopted in 2005 during the Bush administration. Texas power plants must therefore comply with both the first phase of the CAIR that took effect in 2010 and the second-phase reductions that are required in 2015.

In a much-anticipated report on the management of the Port of Houston Authority (PHA), the Sunset Commission, as directed by the Texas legislature, identified several opportunities to improve aspects of port management, including accountability and stakeholder trust. The 95-page report includes a series of recommendations for improvement in a number of basic management and fiduciary areas at the port. While the report reaffirmed the Authority’s ongoing “responsibility as a government agency,” it also highlighted a pervasive “lack of accountability.” Understanding that the port is a unique institution, PHA is criticized in the report for not following a number of best practices in either the private or public sector. As EDF continues to work in partnership with PHA to reduce emissions from oceangoing vessels, trains, cargo handling equipment, and port trucks and improve Houston air quality, we were encouraged by this report’s findings and recommendations. These reforms will also make PHA stronger and better equipped to handle the inevitable diverse pressures over the next several years.

The potential health impacts to workers who daily toil in and around the hundreds of drilling sites were highlighted in a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hazard Alert, identifying exposure to airborne silica as a health hazard to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations during recent field studies. NIOSH is working to identify other potential health risks at drilling sites, acknowledging that there is a real lack of information on occupational dust and chemical exposures in this industry. However, silica is just one of several chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process that can pose hazards at well sites, according to State Impact.

Thanks to a federal appeals court decision, EPA’s health-based air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2) will stand firm. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2 will improve health protections, especially for children, the elderly and individuals with asthma. EDF Attorney Peter Zalzal praised the decision saying it “strongly affirms that EPA’s clean air protections addressing dangerous sulfur dioxide are firmly grounded in science and the law.”

The annual Texas smog season – April through October – appeared in full swing this year with numerous counties around the state exceeding health-based ozone concentrations many times since March. Ozone-forming pollution is emitted by cars, refineries and various industrial plants.  As more Texans began to see shale gas drilling rigs pop up around them, many asked the question: Could emissions from natural gas and oil operations significantly contribute to ground-level ozone? The answer was an unequivocal yes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a unanimous opinion affirming EPA’s protective carbon pollution standards issued under the Clean Air Act.  The Court upheld EPA’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and the Clean Car Standards. The court also dismissed petitions challenging the requirement for large industrial sources to install modern cost-effective solutions to address greenhouse gases and EPA’s common sense approach to inoculate small sources. Today’s ruling underscored what we have long known — that EPA’s climate protections are firmly grounded in science and law and will help secure a healthier, more prosperous future for all Americans.

Though the cancer risks from exposure to diesel emissions have been known for many years, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), officially announced that diesel emissions were carcinogenic to humans. The agency cited the robust body of scientific literature on the issue and stated that diesel emissions were associated with lung cancer and bladder cancer. WHO estimates that cancer kills 7.6 million people worldwide, and is the leading cause of death globally in 2008. Of all cancers, lung cancer is the most lethal, and accounted for 18 percent of all cancer deaths, the agency said.

EPA released a new online tool which provides data about pollution emissions for the country’s largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases. Together, these industry sources are responsible for billions of tons of climate disrupting pollution. This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities. EDF attorney Peter Zalzal summed up our enthusiasm for this new tool: “Americans have a right to know about the pollution in their air. This greenhouse gas emissions data promotes transparency and provides a strong foundation for Americans to work together in deploying smart climate policies.”

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Natural gas, Particulate Matter, Ports, TCEQ / Comments are closed

TCEQ Extends Deadline To Apply For Clean School Bus Grants

As we told you earlier this week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) operates a Texas Clean School Bus Grant Program that is designed to improve the health of school children and bus drivers by reducing emissions of diesel exhaust from school buses. I am pleased to share that TCEQ has extended the application deadline for the program to December 14, 2012.

The TCEQ provides grant money to purchase and install devices on school buses to reduce emissions. All sizes of diesel-powered school buses are eligible. The bus must operate on a regular, daily route to and from a school and have at least five years of useful life remaining.

Applications will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis through the extended deadline. While there is not a limit on the amount of funding that can be applied for, the amount award is at the discretion of the TCEQ. You can download the request for grant applications at www.texascleanschoolbus.org.

Additionally, please check out our recently released EDF report, “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?”, which highlights the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and details the progress made with retrofits and replacements.

Also posted in Air Pollution, TCEQ / Comments are closed

New School Bus Report Highlights Progress On Clean Bus Programs In Texas

Clean school bus programs in Texas have made significant progress toward improving air quality on our state’s school buses, though much work remains to be done according to an analysis EDF just released: “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?” The report highlights the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and details the progress made with retrofits and replacements.

Coincidentally, funding opportunities with impending application deadlines were just announced from two different sources, which seek to address the more than 17,000 buses remaining to be retrofitted or replaced (details below). The challenge, as it has always been, is continuing to motivate Texas Independent School Districts to take advantage of this and other available funding.

Health Concerns of Dirty Buses
Diesel engines power most of the estimated 480,000 school buses in the United States. The World Health Organization recently classified diesel exhaust as a known carcinogen, specifically noting a causal link between exposure to diesel exhaust and lung cancer. One of the most dangerous components of diesel exhaust is particulate matter (PM). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is particularly concerned with these smallest-sized particles, because they are known to aggravate asthma, cause lung inflammation, lead to heart problems, and increase the risk of cancer and premature death.

As we have written before (see PARENTS: Act Now Before Funds Run Out for Cleaner School Buses), Texas children riding to school in buses built before 2007 may be breathing air inside the cabin of the bus that contains 5-10 times higher concentrations of PM than found outside the bus. These older bus engines spew nearly 40 toxic substances and smog-forming emissions. Children, who breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults, are therefore exposed to even higher health risks because their lungs are still developing.

Report Highlights
As of the 2010-2011 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported that nearly two-thirds of current school buses were over six years old, emitting at least 10 times as much PM as newer buses, and much more in many cases because a large proportion of the fleet is even older. More than 700,000 children are impacted, meaning that nearly half of the students relying on school buses for transportation in Texas still ride dirty buses.

Despite the considerable number of older buses that are still on the road, many of the state bus programs have made considerable progress in turning over fleets. Through the end of the 2011 calendar year, 7,068 buses were retrofitted, 700 buses were replaced, and several other projects related to clean fuels and idle reduction were successfully implemented in Texas. Over $38 million has been spent on these projects, with funding received from the federal and state government, as well as from local donors. This is certainly money well spent in protecting our children’s health from particulate matter.

Moving Forward

With momentum from successes to date, our EDF report recommends that communities, ISDs, and government officials carry on the clean school bus momentum by:

  • Continuing to seek funding for these types of projects;
  • Completing existing clean school bus projects; and
  • Investing in these projects through budget and legislative funding allocations.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, two recent funding announcements from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA make more progress possible. Schools need to move quickly though, as these deadlines are approaching.

Under the “Texas Clean School Bus Program,” TCEQ is accepting applications for grants during the next few weeks through November 30. This is a comprehensive program designed to reduce diesel exhaust emissions through school bus retrofits. All public school districts and charter schools in Texas are eligible to apply for this grant. Private schools are not eligible for funding. Public school districts that lease buses are also eligible, according to TCEQ.

EPA also just launched a new rebate funding opportunity for school bus replacements under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. Once more, applicants should act swiftly as the application period is just a month long, from Nov. 13 to Dec. 14.  The first round of rebates will be offered as part of a pilot program and will focus on the replacement of older school buses in both public and private fleets. If the pilot proves successful, EPA will look at rebates for other fleet types and technologies.

In conclusion, work still remains to be done to protect the health of Texas children and improve the air quality in and around school buses – until all of Texas’ oldest buses are either replaced or retrofitted. It’s up to those of us who care about kids in Texas to keep this public health issue a priority.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ / Read 2 Responses

TERP: A Smart Program Helping To Bring Cleaner Air To Texas

Watching the news recently, we know that ozone season is in full swing this year as numerous counties around the state have exceeded health-based ozone concentrations– the magnitude of which the state hasn’t seen in a decade. Yesterday I testified before a Texas State House committee in support of one program in Texas that has been effective in addressing this issue and in reducing air pollution, including the pollutants that form ozone.

TERP is About Clean Air

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) is a smart program that provides market incentives for businesses and individuals to turn over their diesel engines at a faster pace than they would have otherwise. It was also created as a kind of trade-off for penalty measures that otherwise would have been implemented as part of the state’s air quality plan to meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. The penalty measures that the TERP program replaced included:

  • A limit on the use of construction and industrial equipment from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.; and,
  • A requirement that diesel-powered equipment over 50 hp be replaced with newer engines by a certain deadline.

Why The Focus On Diesel Engines?

Emissions from diesel engines are a certified health threat; the older the engine, the more polluting it is. The World Health Organization just this year classified diesel emissions as cancer causing and reinforced calls to reduce their emissions worldwide.

Heavy duty diesel engines traveled almost 700 million miles in Texas in 2010. Combined with our increasing population – up 20 percent in the last decade – and the expansion of facilities like those along the Port of Houston ship channel, programs like TERP take on even more significance as we continue seeking air pollution solutions.

What Makes TERP Special?

TERP is effective. Through August of 2011, TERP projects reduced over 171,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), or about 65 tons per day. This is 65 tons less harmful diesel pollution that Texans are breathing, and around 20 percent more NOx reductions than the program had originally anticipated.

TERP has provided co-benefits in reducing pollutants other than NOx. The TERP program has also funded the popular Clean Bus program, administered by TCEQ. Through the end of 2011, the Clean Bus Program has retrofitted over 6,000 buses and reduced 62 tons of particulate matter. As a result, almost one million Texas children have a cleaner ride to school.

TERP provides resources for innovation. TERP funds have been used to fund research and development projects that will help make the state a leader in developing new technologies while creating new business and industry in Texas. Alternative fueling stations funded by TERP will pave the way for the most innovative engines developed.

TERP replaces other measures that were considered unpopular. If the TERP program is discontinued, then the state will have to come up with additional measures to reduce ozone-causing pollutants. The same unpopular measures that were recommended prior to TERP adoption will be revisited.

TERP has potential to expand to cover additional counties. Only equipment operating for the majority of time within 42 specific counties has been eligible to receive TERP funds. As additional counties fall out of attainment with more protective health-based air quality standards, TERP eligibility can be expanded to provide resources for emission reduction projects.

More TERP Background

TERP was established by the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001, through the enactment of Senate Bill 5. The legislation defines the TERP program objective to reduce NOx emissions from older heavy-duty on-road vehicles and non-road equipment by providing grants and rebates for voluntary upgrades and replacements.

Since NOx is a primary precursor to the formation of ground-level ozone, the TERP program targets areas of Texas designated as nonattainment for ground-level ozone under the Federal Clean Air Act (FCAA), as well as near non-attainment areas and areas having an early action compact agreement to address ozone issues.

Lowering NOX emissions from TERP-eligible sources remains a critical strategy for the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP), which details how the state meets the FCAA.

How TERP Is Funded

Taxes on diesel equipment and motor vehicles provide funding for TERP. These include surcharges such as:

  1. Off-road Heavy Duty Diesel Equipment Surcharge- Rate: 2% of sale or lease price
  2. Motor Vehicle Surcharge- Rate: 2.5% of total price paid for 1996 or earlier year models; 1% of total price paid for 1997 and newer models
  3. Motor Vehicle Registration Surcharge- Rate: 10% of total fees due for the registration of the truck tractor or commercial motor vehicle
Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Ozone / Comments are closed