Bad Takes: Until San Antonio and Texas voters demand better, our air quality will remain noxious

Three out of four Bexar County residents agreed that 'global warming will harm future generations,' according to a Yale climate survey published earlier this year.

Regardless of where air pollution comes from, those who end up living with it suffer the consequences. - Via Flickr user ribarnica
Via Flickr user ribarnica
Regardless of where air pollution comes from, those who end up living with it suffer the consequences.
Bad Takes is a periodic column of opinion and analysis.

"The opinion of this mischievous effect from lead is at least above 60 years old, and you will observe with concern how long a useful truth may be known, and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on." — Benjamin Franklin, 1786

As that annoying spacephone in your pocket may have informed you recently, for 17 of the last 30 days, the concentration of fine particulate matter wafting above Bexar County has exceeded the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines.

Exposure to this kind of pollution — which goes deep into one's lungs and even the bloodstream — can result in cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks, asthma attacks and bronchitis, and it's been significantly correlated with premature mortality.

On top of that, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that San Antonio failed to attain requisite ozone standards under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Although chamber of commerce-types have been quick to blame other regions of Texas and even Mexico for our city's nonattainment, the source makes little difference to those who enjoy breathing. Even relatively low levels of ozone can render us more vulnerable to respiratory infections — which seems relevant with SARS2 cases again on the rise.

One ignominious mark of distinction we cannot blame on Mexico is our being home to one of the hot spots of industrial air pollution ProPublica mapped last year using federal data. The nonprofit journalism organization identified the South Side's Calumet San Antonio Refining LLC as one of those industrial sources of cancer-causing industrial air emissions.

"According to the EPA, ideally a person's cancer risk from air pollution should be 1 in a million," KSAT-12 journalist Alicia Barrera reported last November on the facility. "However, in the neighborhood near the San Antonio Refinery, one out of every 51,000th person is at risk of cancer."

Unhealthy air follows many of us inside as well. One would think an airborne pandemic might be the perfect time to outfit every classroom and workplace and residence with high-quality air filtration. Again, one would think.

While, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration has "provided hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds that can be used in schools, public buildings, and other settings to improve indoor air quality," that does not adequately account for offices, warehouses or homes.

Or schools, as National Public Radio reported. According to NPR, it's still unclear how many campuses made the changes, noting that "the average American school is over 45 years old" and "some schools are so old, they don't even have mechanical ventilation systems."

Predictably, responsibility for public health tends to fall on us as consumers, not on institutions, meaning that each of us effectively has about as much clean indoor air as we can afford.

Even more perplexing are the contradictory messages we sometimes receive. On certain days, apps monitoring ambient air quality, for instance, might tell us to "Close your windows to avoid dirty outdoor air," while the Centers for Disease Control, trying to "keep virus particles from accumulating inside," recommends we "open doors and windows as much as you can to bring in fresh, outdoor air."

If only Schrodinger's cat were around to advise us.

What's certain is the GOP sucks horribly on health-related environmental issues and the Democrats suck only slightly less.

Conservatives have smartly chosen a winning electoral strategy with a proven track record of success: totally wreck responsive government, then argue that any government response is a total wreck. What exactly are they intent on conserving, one wonders, if not the environment we all inherit and pass on to our kids as a birthright?

Three out of four Bexar County residents agreed that "global warming will harm future generations," according to a Yale climate survey published earlier this year. So when were we planning to do something consequential about that?

Republicans have been content to tap into voters' legitimate frustration with high gas prices, pointing the finger at Dems while convulsing in paroxysms of "Drill, baby, drill!" This comes despite the fact that oil and gas companies are currently sitting on more than 9,000 permits that have already been approved and are ready to go.

Just as notably, if the damage we're doing to our shared habitat and fellow citizens were factored in every time we filled up the tank with gasoline, we'd likely be paying $3-$4 more at the pump. Those who wouldn't dream of dumping toxic waste in their neighbor’s backyard routinely dump carbon pollution on literally everyone without a second thought. And emissions from road transportation alone cause more than 50,000 premature deaths annually.

The costs of a transition to green energy shouldn't be borne by those struggling to get by, of course, but to accomplish that feat, we’ll first need to take the fossil fuel industry to the woodshed, which neither bought-and-paid-for Republicans nor corporate Democrats seem remotely willing to exercise genuine leadership on.

Since, in our perverse, topsy-turvy carnival of a country, comedians are one of the more trusted sources of information these days, please take a moment to inhale stand-up comic Steve Hofstetter's fair-and-balanced remonstration of Texas' "anti-environment dishonest sentient cowboy hat" better known as Gov. Greg Abbott.

As-ever, Democrats will need to be constantly pushed to show actual results on clean air and other urgent areas of mutual concern. However, if Texans concerned about the environment voted Abbott out of office come November, surely we could all breathe a little easier.

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