In case you hadn't heard, the EPA doesn't think your air is quite clean enough. To those of you who have been sheltering in place these last few middle-to-bad ozone days declared “unhealthy for sensitive groups” this likely comes as no surprise.
Those of you without asthmatic kids in the system and your wheezes in check probably haven't been watching this one too closely. Which is why the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conjured an easily accessible, room-for-all meeting in San Antonio yesterday. Okay, scratch that accessibility part, but a healthy two dozen certified “stakeholders,” as the bureaucrats refer to themselves and the polluters they sometimes regulate, packed a small meeting room yesterday at the TCEQ's regional office way out in the sticks for a briefing on the subject.
However, the half-hour message is short enough for a friendly postcard or abbreviated email blast: Tougher federal air-quality standards intended to keep people and our ecosystems healthy and happy are expected to be announced this fall and go into effect next year, forcing a chunk of Texas's counties onto the hamster wheel of compliance aerobics.
Despite a concluding Q&A session, there was no discussion of the tougher aspects of what non-compliance would bring (San Anto may have to start sniffing tailpipes and ticketing smoking vehicles, for instance), but with the federal-state wrangling over the TCEQ's air-permitting process at a high simmer, I half expected the TCEQ reps leading the discussion to decry the loss of sweet Texas liberty. No such hysterical luck. It all ran short and simple ... apart from all that mathematical-equation stuff delivering cerebral pains like tiny invisible missiles.
If only the state's first meeting on healthier air had been held within earshot of our inner-city mothers, I'd bank on a healthier dose of applause and fewer pruny faces. As it was, the suburban chamber was mostly packed with the curious to the critical.
Dean Danos, deputy director of the cleaner-air opposing Alamo Area Council of Governments asked if the state or feds will be helping upgrade local monitoring stations, but no answer was offered. It was matter for the monitoring department, he was told. “That's the first shot off the bow,” Danos huffed to his companion, though he failed to deliver a shot across my bow by returning a call offering clarification about his concerns. *
It's no secret that both AACOG and Bexar County are vigorously opposed to the new standards for the raft of penalties they'd likely represent for San Antonio. Both passed resolutions against the change (For our take on their limp attempt at scientific justifications, step into “Ozone Wars.”) based primarily on their objection to EPA's past unwillingness to consider that a good portion of the dirty air in Bexar County is imported. (EPA's regional head told me recently: “Some of that is true, because ozone and the things that cause ozone do move. If that was the reason not to do anything we would never solve the ozone problem.")
But yesterday, the Czar of the Skies, ACOG's Natural Resources Director Peter Bella, struck a softer tone, suggesting that the EPA may be more amenable to making allowances for San Antonio pollution that drifts over from that toxic jobs generator known as the Houston Ship Channel. That, in essence, everyone is in favor of better science in this game.
Depending on where the EPA's massive finger lands in its ozone pudding (they have suggested it will settle between 60 parts per mbillion and 70 ppmb **), anywhere from 20 to 29 Texas counties will fall out of compliance with federal standards, one TCEQ official projected.
If you find yourself so moved, you can write the TCEQ to suggest what it should suggest the EPA set the standard at â?¦ as if anyone in Washington really cares what TCEQ recommends these days.
Scratch a quill to:
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Attn: Silly Breathing Rules
P.O. Box 13087, Mail Code 164
Austin, Texas 78753
Or pass off a facsimile:
** corrected June 11