Dominos fallingBy a vote of 3 to 2 this morning Dallas County became the first local government in DFW to take a stance rejecting the state-sponsored anti-smog plan for the area, and ask EPA for help in writing a new one that might actually produce cleaner air. 

At stake is the last comprehensive chance to address chronic smog in North Texas until the next decade.

Pct 1 Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel introduced the resolution. It garnered support from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Pct 4 Commissioner Elba Garcia.

One-by-one Judge Jenkins cited, and then shot down, arguments he said he'd heard from industry about East Texas jobs, electric grid reliability, and the "premature" nature of the vote, given that the state's plan doesn't officially arrive at the EPA's doorstep until July. He said he found none of these persuasive in light of the impact to public health and lost productivity from dirty air days in Dallas County cited in Dr. Robert Haley's landmark 2015 study on the costs of smog in DFW. And he saw no indication the state was planning to change anything in the plan prior to July's official submission.

Garcia was hopeful that the measure, although without the weight of law, would still be effective in getting the EPA to provide a more effective clean air plan. 

Daniel cited the fact the area has continually been out of compliance with the Clean Air Act since 1991 despite five previous state air plans as evidence of something more being needed this time around. She also reminded the Court of the conclusions of the UNT's ozone study, based on the state's own computer air modeling, showing the East Texas coal plants to be the single biggest influence on DFW smog. 

Commissioner John Wiley Price, facing federal corruption charges, gave perhaps the most puzzling and incoherent defense of dirty air ever heard inside a local governmental chamber. He seemed to be adopting the TCEQ party line in arguing that the coal plants weren't impacting DFW air and the Court's actions were "premature" – he latched on to Jenkins phrase like a drowning man to a floating log. But honestly, there weren't a lot of complete sentences to his explanation. Which is a shame, because when you talk about who pays the price for dirty air in Dallas County, a disproportional number of those casualties are Commissioner Price's constituents – people of color who make less than the median income. They need a strong advocate for clean air, not a rambling echo chamber for the failed status quo. 

Commissioner Mike Cantrell, the lone Republican on the court, did not speak at all. Such is the state of the Texas Republican Party. 

Dallas County's resolution now goes to EPA, will it will join a letter sent two weeks ago by Dallas area congressional representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey, which also requested EPA reject the state's plan and write one of its own if it has to. 

Meanwhile, clean air advocates are fanning out and seeking appointments with representatives from other North Texas counties and cities to attempt to get as many similar resolutions as they can between now and the end of the year, when a final decision could be made by EPA to accept or reject the plan. They say the more local governments that pass them, the more likely it is EPA will feel it has the political support to intervene. 

Because Dallas District 12 Councilwoman Sandy Greyson served with Commissioner Daniel on the same committee overseeing the UNT and Haley studies, it's probable Dallas City Hall will be one of the next front lines in this fight. Stay tuned.

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P_IIIE4ballot_boxDallas County Commissioners' vote on sending state air plan back to Austin:

This Tuesday, May 3rd, 9 am   411 Elm Downtown Dallas   

First air quality vote of 2016

Come help us thank local officials for standing up to the state  

This next Tuesday, May 3rd, the Dallas County Commissioners Court will hold an historic vote.

Commissioners will be asked to go on record as the first local North Texas government urging the EPA to reject the currently proposed state air plan for DFW and replace it with a stronger one that actually cuts pollution. 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Theresa Daniel is sponsoring a resolution that requests EPA to do two things:

"…to reject the proposed State Implementation Plan for DFW ozone pollution, and require a new federal DFW clean air plan that can meet or exceed the current 75 ppb federal ozone standard at all North Texas monitoring sites, and implement all reasonably available pollution controls as defined by the federal Clean Air Act. 

and

"...regulate East Texas coal plants as if they were in the DFW non-attainment area, or include them in a larger non-attainment area for North Texas under rules governing the new federal 70 ppb ozone standard."

As the most populous county in the 10-County DFW "non-attainment area" for smog, Dallas carries a lot of political weight. Passing such a resolution would be an important signal to other local officials concerned about the two-decade plus chronic air pollution problem in the region. 

Downwinders and other citizens groups have formed a new ad-hoc alliance to campaign for similar resolutions in other North Texas cities and counties as part of a broader effort of convincing EPA to replace another state "do-nothing" air plan with one of its own. 

The DFW Clean Air Network, or DFW CAN, includes the Dallas Sierra Club, and the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign,Public Citizen TexasMansfield Gas Well AwarenessLiveable Arlington, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.  

It's important to recognize what a challenge Commissioner Daniel and others are facing in taking on Austin over this issue. They need to see your support for their brave stands. And all the Dallas County Commissioners need to be reminded how long we've had to breathe dirty air and why we're fed-up with the state's apathy. 

We CAN win this vote.

We CAN make a difference. 

We CAN breathe clean air. 

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R2D2 DroneIn yet another shift away from the state's monopoly on air quality information, breathers in North Texas won't have to rely on the Austin-designed system of local air monitoring much longer.

On Sunday, Downwinders at Risk won its category in the Earth Tank competition at Earth Day Texas and brought home $3000 to buy a drone the group will modify to perform its own air DFW sampling and monitoring operations.

Working with the TCU engineering department, Downwinders will use the money to purchase a heavy-duty consumer drone and outfit it with small air pollution sensors and sampling equipment that work in concert with smart phones and laptops. The result will be an instrument able to give citizens and scientists real time information about air pollution.

As far as we know, we'll be the first group in the state to have this kind of capability.

Our presentation on Sunday made the case that the current DFW air monitoring network run by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gives an incomplete picture of air pollution threats in DFW. Both the limited number of air monitors and their immobility were cited as faults that could be depriving residents of a fuller, more accurate picture of DFW's chronic air pollution problems. Our answer was an air sampling drone that could go practically anywhere at anytime and sample for many different pollutants depending on what's being monitored. 

One of the examples we used was Wise County, which is the most recent addition to the DFW 'non-attainment area" for smog. Despite it now being a part of the regulated smog zone, and despite the fact repeated computer air modeling by the state shows the highest smog levels in the region could be found there, Wise County has no smog monitors. Not a one.

Austin knows if it puts a new monitor is Wise County, DFW's annual smog average might go up even higher than it is now, and so the TCEQ has treated the County like it's not there. 

Downwinders' drone will be able to show-up in Wise County on "ozone action days" and actually take real time measurements of smog for evidence demonstrating the need for an official monitor. TCEQ already hates this idea. 

We'll also be able to do things like take methane readings over the gas patch, montior the plumes at accident sites (think the Magnablend catastrophe in Waxahachie a few years ago), and carry out experiments and research projects for area scientists – all the things TCEQ should be doing, but isn't. 

This new tool allows us to enter into colaborations with other groups, local governments, and university programs. It's a teaching device we can take to schools. It can back-up citizen complaints. The uses are many.

But as we told the panel of judges on Sunday, our real "killer app" is not the drone itself, but the organization of people we put in place to operate it and decide how to use it.

Dr. Michael Slattery of the TCU Institute of Environmental Studies will head a group of researchers, technicians, and citizens who will assess projects, train drone pilots, and help administer "The North Texas Clean Air Force."  Downwinders at Risk board member and Mansfield fracking activist Tamera Bounds has already signed-up. "I can't wait to learn how to fly that thing." 

With the creation of this group, we'll be establishing a parrallel air quality monitoring program that once again opens up a previoulsy closed black box in Austin to citizen use. Just last November, we unveiled our DFW Ozone Study that, for the first time ever, took the state's own computer air model for DFW, cloned it, and had it do things the state did not want done – like tell us how much less smog would be breathed in DFW if you put modern controls on the largest industrial polluters.

In taking on these responsibilities which have tradtionally fallen to the state, our goal is not only to provide valuable new tools to citizens, but build new structures of decision-making about air quality that puts citizens in charge. For us, it's as important to change the way we make decisions as it is to add to the scientific literature, or bring smog levels down. It's right there in our mission statement,

Our goal is to build a strong grassroots constituency and create new strategies for clean air in North Texas.  

We do this by informing, connecting and mobilizing citizens to become active participants in the decision-making that affects the air we breathe. 

In doing so, we improve both the quality of our air and the quality of our democracy.”

We still have a lot of research to do, a lot of mistakes to make, a lot of experience to absorb, but creation and operation of a North Texas Clean AIr Force is one more step to building the kind of citizens' self-defense system necessary when your state government abdicates its job of public health protector.

Now, because the state's monopoly on data is crumbling with each new advancement in micro-processing, we're willing and able to step into this vacuum of leadership. Our goal is not only taking over the jobs Austin isn't doing, but creating a more citizen-friendly way of doing those jobs. 

Move over TCEQ, the North Texas Clean Air Force is about to take off. 

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Crowd shot w: inhaler

Release from Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel's office today at 3:30 pm

Officials Seek EPA Help in

Clean-Up of DFW Smog

 

Rep. Johnson and Veasey send letter to Agency chief;

Commissioner Daniel puts resolution on May 3rd

Dallas County Court agenda, say “more

progress needed” than current 

state air plan delivers.

(Dallas)— In an unprecedented coordination of local and congressional action on air quality, elected officials announced they were formally asking for the EPA’s help in producing a better plan to clean up DFW’s chronic smog, now in its third decade of violating the Clean Air Act.

In Washington, Dallas Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey released the contents of an April 19th letter they sent EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, citing the Agency’s own public comments, and calling the state's current plan for addressing air quality in DFW ‘insufficient to meet the existing federal ozone standard.”

“We ask you to consider rejecting the state’s plan and the use of a Federal Implementation Plan if your agency decides that the final SIP revision is insufficient.”

In Dallas, County Commissioner Theresa Daniel has put a resolution on the Court’s May 3rd agenda that urges the EPA to reject the proposed State Implementation Plan for DFW ozone pollution, and require a new federal DFW clean air plan that can meet or exceed the current 75 ppb federal ozone standard…"

Daniel’s resolution also requests the EPA to “regulate East Texas coal plants as if they were in the DFW non-attainment area, or include them in a larger non-attainment area for North Texas under rules governing the new federal 70 ppb ozone standard.”

“What’s at stake is the last opportunity to take a coordinated regional approach to reducing air pollution until at least 2021,” said Daniel, who’s been helping oversee a local air quality research project produced by the UNT Engineering Department. “After decades of being in violation of the Clean Air Act, we need more and faster progress to solve this serious public health issue costing us lives and dollars every year”

What Daniel and the Representatives are seeking is an official EPA rejection of an anti-smog  plan for DFW and surrounding counties already passed by the state and on its way to EPA. The plan provides for no cuts in pollution from any major sources in North Texas, relying instead on a coming 2017 nationwide federal mandate that will reduce smog-forming pollution from traffic.

Because its contents are well known and a public comment period has passed, EPA’s skepticism of the state’s plan is on the record.  The Agency’s conclusion that the plan needs some 100-200 tons a day more in additional air pollution cuts to attain the necessary drop in smog is used in the congressional letter calling for federal intervention. Daniel’s resolution also cites the EPA’s comments as one of the reasons the region needs to reject the state plan and draft a better one.

Although unprecedented in the long history of DFW air quality planning, the officials’ request follows on the heels of a similar resolution passed by the Texas Medical Association last year., spurred on by local Dallas County doctors who’ve been speaking out about the health dangers of DFW’s continuing smog problem. Many of those same doctors say they’ll be present on the 3rd to voice their support for Daniel’s resolution and praise Johnson and Veasey for taking the lead in Washington.

“Evidence is overwhelming that our high ozone levels are causing increasing numbers of area children to develop asthma, and are contributing to the many asthma attacks, chronic lung disease exacerbations, and heart attacks we see every day in our emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals,” said Robert Haley, MD, a Dallas internist and epidemiologist. “A large body of medical research shows that more people of all ages develop respiratory illnesses and die prematurely in cities with high ozone levels, and we have among the highest ozone levels in the country.”

On Wednesday the American Lung Association issued its annual “State of the Air” report and once again gave the Dallas-Fort Worth area an “F” for air quality. Although the number of dirty air days and their severity has fallen over the years, the region is still not in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Daniel cited the new report as one more reason she, Johnson, and Veasey have to take action now. “This is the only opportunity until the next decade to get a better clean air plan for North Texas.  If we don’t take the right steps in 2016, we’ll still be getting an “F” in 2026.”

__________________________________________________________________________________

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Drone 1In what would be a huge leap forward in the ability of citizens to do their own air monitoring, Downwinders' proposal to purchase a drone and use it for regional air quality sampling is in the running for Earth Day Texas' "Earth Tank Prize" competition. 

Purchasing the first aircraft in a new citizen-organized "North Texas Clean Air Force" is now one of nine projects to be pitched live in front of a "Shark Tank"- like atmosphere of audience and judges on the last day of the Fair Park extravaganza. Locally-based Downwinders' is in direct competition with two other groups in the category of organizations with budgets under $100,000 annually: statewide group Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Austin-based Rainforest Partnership. The prize is a $3000 grant. 

Earth Tank Prize 2016 is an initiative of Earth Day Texas (EDTx) and Dallas Festival of Ideas (DFOI) that awards cash prizes to environmental non-profit groups for important conservation and sustainability projects in Texas. The other two categories of contestants – non-profits making between $100-500,000, and those bringing in over $500,000 also have three finalists each and are competing for prize packages of $7,000 and $15,000 respectively. The complete list of finalists is here.

For our own effort, Downwinders has partnered with Dr. Michael Slattery of TCU's Institute for Environmental Studies, who has experience in both air quality modeling and using drones for conservation of rhino populations in Africa. Dr. Slattery would head a committee determining the use of the drone to insure scientific credibility and useful, robust data. Local academic institutions and non-profits would be able to propose projects that would be weighed on their ability to add to public policy and public health.

Besides its capacity to provide a new tool for researchers, the Downwinders' drone could also become an important enforcement tool for citizens.

Having the ability to monitor and sample air quality in real time anywhere in the North Texas area is a game changer for local public health policy. Not only can a wide variety of hypotheses be tested relating to plume transport and content, but you’d have the ability to monitor downwind of catastrophic accidents, and confirm the compliance of major polluters. You can show where the state should place new official monitors, and what pollutants those monitors should be targeting. You can map more effective control strategies using the results.

As we noted in our submission, what’s unique about this proposal is not that it employs a drone, but that it’s a direct assumption of government responsibilities by local citizens and experts. Much like Downwinders' recent taking over of the state's air computer modeling duties for smog, churning out a map for cleaner air the state could not bring itself to produce, this is a way that citizens can not just supplement, or replace the state's current air monitoring and sampling program. We can build a better one. 

All nine finalists for the Earth Tank Prize will pitch live to an audience and judges at Fair Park Sunday, April 24th. We'll follow-up with details as to when and where. Cross your fingers. 

 

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premies_2 2There are no shortages of studies linking bad air with birth defects and premature births. But until now no one has taken on the task of trying to add up the national toll in both lives and money.

In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives on Tuesday, UCLA researchers estimated that almost 16,000 premature births across the country in 2010 — about 3 percent of the nationwide total of 475,368 — were related to exposure to high levels of "air polution" – in this case the insideous and ubiquitos Particulate Matter, or PM.  These premie births cost the system $4.33 billion, including $760 million spent on prolonged hospital stays and long-term use of medications, as well as $3.57 billion in lost economic productivity due to physical and mental disabilities associated with preterm birth. 

"For policy makers, decisions about regulating air pollution come down to a trade off between the cost of preventing air pollution and the health and economic benefits of limiting air pollution sources," study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Population Health and Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Without data documenting the health effects of air pollution on preterm births, there's only one side to that discussion. So what we did was to quantify the disease burden and economic cost associated with preterm birth that could be traced to air pollution."

Developing fetuses are very vulnerable to pollutants of all kinds. That's why doctors tell women not to smoke during pregnancy. Exposures to high levels of air pollution increases toxic chemicals in the blood and can weaken the immune system, causing stress to the placenta and leading to preterm birth (defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

PM pollution represents a threat because the particles are so tiny and fine they pass from your lung right into your blood stream and go where ever the flow takes them – to your heart, your liver, your brain. PM can also act as a kind of toxic suitcase for whatever other polutants came out of the same smokestack or exhaust pipe – metals, endocrine disruptors, etc. 

Premature babies face greater risk of health issues including heart and breathing problems, weaker immune systems, anemia, jaundice and other complications. Longterm, while many preemies grow up healthy, they can be more likely face hearing or vision problems or developmental disabilities.

The study authors emphasized that this burden is preventable and say they plan to share their findings with policymakers in an effort to help shape regulations and laws designed to reduce air pollution. 

"This really speaks to the need to continue with efforts to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicle exhaust," Trasande said. We have some of those in Texas. 

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Endocrine Frog 2Founded by the late great Theo Colburn, who along with her co-authors of "Our Stolen Future" way back in 1996 just about invented the field of "endocrine-disrupting chemicals," the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) is holding a monthly teleconference series begining in April focusing on chemicals associated with fracking. 

First up on Thursday, April 7th at 1 pm is Dr. Chris Kassotis, who's been looking at the connection between fracking chemicals and surface and ground water contamination near fracking sites. According to the TEDX release, Kassotis will speak about… 

"…his recently published research demonstrating increased endocrine disrupting activity in surface and ground water near fracking wastewater spill sites, as well as nuclear receptor antagonism for 23 commonly used fracking chemicals. His studies have shown prenatal exposure to a mixture of those chemicals at likely environmentally relevant concentrations resulted in adverse health effects in both male and female C57 mice, including decreased sperm counts, modulated hormone levels, increased body weights, and more. Dr. Kassotis will also discuss his recent work showing increased receptor antagonism downstream from a wastewater injection disposal site.

Dr. Kassotis is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He completed his PhD at the University of Missouri working with Susan Nagel to assess unconventional oil and gas operations as a novel source of endocrine disrupting chemicals in water, and the potential for adverse human and animal health outcomes from exposure. 

This April get together is one of three briefings being given from now until June. According to a preview of the next two calls:

Thursday May 5, 2016, 1:00 pm Central  – Dr. Shaina Stacy will discuss "Perinatal outcomes and unconventional natural gas development in Southwest Pennsylvania"

Thursday June 2, 2016, 1:00 pm Central – Dr. Nicole Deziel will discuss "A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity"

You have to go online and register as a participant if you want to listen in or ask quesitons via a live chat line. 

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DFW New vs old boundariesWant the Coal Plants to Face the Kind of Regulation 

They've Been Avoiding for Decades? 

Click here and send a formal comment letter demanding the coal plants

be included in the new DFW non-attainment area for smog. 


 

Even as we're all waiting to see what EPA decides to do about the current Texas air plan for DFW under the current 75 ppb ozone standard, the regulatory process is gearing-up to administer the new 70 ppb standard.

One of the things which must be decided by the EPA are what geographical boundaries to use for the new standard when it comes to the DFW airshed and its chronic smog condition. Should they stick with the current 10-County configuration or should it be different and/or more inclusive? 

The history of DFW's smog fight is a lengthy chronicle of bringing new counties into the fold despite official resistance. Originally, the DFW non-attainment area was only Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton. Then Rockwall, Parker, and Johnson Counties came in because of their commuter traffic. 

Downwinders had to petition the EPA to bring Ellis County and its cement industrial complex into the non-attainment area early in this century after being told repeatedly by state officials that its pollution had no impact on DFW air quality. 

More recently, the state argued against the inclusion of Wise County, despite its huge inventory of oil and gas pollution, population of commuters, and more than likely, the highest ozone levels of anywhere in North Texas. EPA decided to bring it in anyway.

We're once again at a crossroads, and it could be the most significant one in a decade. 

100% coal statewinde impactNew evidence shows the huge impact the East Texas coal plants have on DFW air quality. Every scenario run by the UNT Engineering Department with the state's own DFW air computer model as part of Downwinder's Ozone Attainment Project demonstrates there's no more effective smog fighting strategy than reducing or eliminating the pollution from these coal plants.

In fact, with a few other measures within the DFW area itself, controlling or eliminating their emissions could bring us in compliance with the 75 ppb standard, something that's not likely to happen otherwise. 

Why is it so important to officially bring them into the DFW non-attainment area? Because major sources of pollution like coal plants are regulated differently inside than they are outside the area. 

Right now, many DFW businesses are having to pay to operate and maintain pollution control equipment although most emit a tiny fraction of the pollution coming from the coal plants. That's because they're located in one of the ten counties in the DFW non-attainment area. They're held to a higher standard of control than their peers doing business outside those ten counties. 

On the other hand, despite their large contribution to DFW's chronic ozone problem, the East Texas coal plants remain untouched by the same regulations and are not held to that higher standard.  What sense does that make? 

As much sense as it made to keep the cement plants out. As much sense as it made to try and exclude Wise County. 

As per usual, the EPA is letting the state have first crack at defining a new DFW smog zone. The state has decided to leave the boundaries the way they are.

CHAPPs study result copyNow, it's your turn to comment on that state decision, and tell Austin and the EPA – which will review the State's recommendations – what you think needs to happen. 

The state is accepting comments on its decision until April 15th. This time, you can send your comments directly by e-mail instead of having to go through the official Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website

If you want to use our ready-to-send letter, all you have to do is CLICK HERE , sign the letter and add your own comments if you want. Then one more click and it's on it's way to Austin. 

If you want to write your own comments: 

EMAIL: kristin.patton@tceq.texas.gov 

SNAIL MAIL: Kristin Patton, MC 206, State Implementation Plan Team, Office of Air, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087, 

FAXED:(512) 239-6188. 

All comments should reference "2015 Ozone NAAQS Designation Recommendations." 

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Lois Gibbs Is Offering You Money

by jim on March 14, 2016

Lois Gibbs in color 2Many of you got a chance to meet and hang out with American grassroots legend Lois Gibbs during our Root and Branch Review last November. Now comes news that her Virginia-based Center for Environmental Health and Environmental Justice is opening up a new round of small grants for local groups. 

According to the Center's release, "grassroots communities of color, low wealth, faith based, rural and urban groups are encouraged to apply.  This grant program will support projects that help groups move towards their goals by building leadership and/or the group’s capacity. These projects could include meetings to develop an organizing strategy plan, training events, educational activities or membership outreach.  The grant awards will be uwith annual budgets of no more than $50,000.

CHEJ’s Small Grants Program helps grassroots, community organizing groups build their capacity.  The program is designed to especially reach people from low wealth communities and communities of color who are impacted by environmental harms. Grant activities can include board development, membership outreach, and fundraising efforts. Project activities could also include meetings to develop an organizing strategic plan, training events, educational activities which are directly connected to your strategic plan, or membership recruitment.  It is recommended that project activities be creative, effective and/or strategic." 

Not an official 501c3 non-profit? Not a problem if you can find a friendly one to piggyback on as "a fiscal sponsor" to accpet the funds on your behalf.

Deadline for proposals is Friday, April 8th. The short two-page application can be downloaded here: Small Grants Outreach Letter Application 2. Any questions can be directed at the group via their email address, info@chej.org. 

Good luck.

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Battlefield mapThere's been a lot of activity lately on the many-fronted war the State of Texas is conducting against the Clean Air Act. What about a brief status report:

1) Mercury Rules

Thursday's headline was that Supreme Court Justice Roberts denied the attempt by Texas and 18 other states to delay the implementation of EPA's new, more protective limits on release of toxic Mercury pollution from coal plants. In 2013, three out of the top five largest Mercury polluters in the whole country were Texas coal plants.

It was only last summer that majority of the entire Court ruled EPA hadn't followed protocol in weighing costs to the coal industry versus public health benefits, and sent the standard back to the Agency to be rewritten. Not an especially big deal.

Texas, along with other states, sought an injunction from Justice Roberts to stop the timeline for implementation of the rules until the rewrite was finished. Roberts denied the request and so EPA is allowed to continue writing the rules and now expects to release the revised edition next month. One indication of how much trouble the rules are in, or not, is the speed and format of Robert's actions. He ruled on the case only a day after the EPA had submitted its brief, and  ruled on it unilaterally, not bothering to convene the full Court. 

The practical implications of the rules are reductions in the use of coal with higher Mercury content, better Particulate Matter pollution control equipment, and specific carbon absorption control technology aimed at Mercury. Many Texas coal plants have already taken steps to comply with the standards and it seems like almost all have applied for extensions to the original deadline. 

2) Haze Rules 

Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state was suing the EPA for rejecting its lackadaisical plan to protect national parks from haze air pollution, also mostly coming from coal plants. Just three Luminant coal plants – Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello – release 40% of all Texas’ Sulfur Dioxide air pollution.

Late last year, EPA announced it found the state's lightning-fast 140-year plan to do absolutely nothing somehow inadequate, and begin to draft one of its own that would require "scrubbers" for Sulfur Dioxide pollution at nine coal plants across the state. It also concluded Texas had intentionally downplayed the impact of the coal plants on park air quality in computer modeling submitted to EPA . 

Texas is suing to prevent the EPA from enforcing its plan to require scrubbers and asking the court to accept the original Texas plan as reasonable. Pending. 

3) Sulfur Dioxide Non-attainment Areas in East Texas 

In mid-February, EPA announced it intended to declare areas surrounding three East Texas coal plants as out of compliance with national Sulfur Dioxide pollution limits and declared them in official "non-attainment" of the Clean Air Act. Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake power plants were found to be causing the violations in ambient air quality using computer modeling results first run by the Sierra Club, and then analyzed by the EPA. Boundaries were drawn for the new non-attainment areas that include all or parts of Freestone, Anderson, Rusk, Gregg, Panola, and Titus counties.

Final action by EPA on the non-attainment area classification is scheduled for this summer. Then it will be up to the state to submit a plan for action. We can all write the script from there. It ends in a court ruling. 

Eventually, these East Texas non-attainment areas are another tool by EPA's to raise the costs of operating the oldest, most polluting coal plants to better reflect their toll on public health. Plants could lower their Sulfur Dioxide emissions by importing more "Cleaner Coal" from Wyoming and/or paying for those scrubbers the Haze Rules requires too. 

4) DFW Clean Air Plan 

DFW is in "non-attainment" for ozone, or smog pollution. It has been since 1991. The State has submitted a plan to EPA that sits back and watches federal fuel changes reduce smog-forming pollution by 20-40 tons per day. The problem? EPA estimates it will take cuts of 100-200 tons per day to get down to the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. The state says it sees no reason for more cuts. 

This is the state plan up for comment at the the now infamous "F*** the TCEQ" public hearing in Arlington in late January, with final submission to EPA by the state this summer. 

But between now and then one of the headlines you should see will be EPA rejecting the part of the state's plan dealing with pollution control technology.  EPA has already telegraphed their intention to do so, and they don't have to wait for the state's final submittal deadline to act. 

This will, of course, be followed by the state's suing the EPA for daring to enforce the Clean Air Act when Austin won't. But it won't keep the EPA from doing exactly what it did in the Haze Rule fight – write its own clean air plan for DFW. 

And that will be our chance to make the greatest leap forward in local air quality in a decade. 

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How to Outflank HB40 in the Barnett Shale

by jim on February 29, 2016

OutflankingLast week, the EPA made an important admission

"Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are significantly higher than previous official estimates, according to draft revisions of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. At 9.3 million metric tons, revised estimates of 2013 emissions are 27% percent higher than the previous tally. Over a 20-year timeframe, those emissions have the same climate impact as over 200 coal-fired power plants."

This most recent analysis jives with other studies like the one from UTA/EDF that found Barnett Shale facilities leaking up to 50% more methane than previously estimated. In reaction to the information, EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying "we need to do more" to cut methane pollution. 

In its last year in office the Obama administration is finally grasping that natural gas isn't the climate change wunderkind its promoters claimed and last week's announcement is the tacit admission they need to do more to crack down on oil and gas. 

What has that got to do with DFW in 2016? 

By Spring, the Regional office of the EPA is expected to announce that it has rejected the State's clean air plan for DFW in regard to its application of "Reasonably Available Control Technology." That means the state hasn't required the application of readily-available air pollution controls for major sources the way the Clean Air Act demands. Specifically, EPA staff have cited the failure of the state to lower the emission standards for the Midlothian cement kilns to reflect more modern technology. But it's not the only area where Texas fell short. There are no new pollution requirements for any oil and gas facilities in the state's plan either.

EPA rejection of the Technology section of the state's DFW air plan would mean the EPA would begin to draft its own clean air plan for the region. An EPA-drafted plan gives local citizens concerned about the health impacts of fracking an opportunity to persuade the Agency to use the plan to crack down on smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in the Barnett Shale by requiring lower emission standards on all aspects of drilling and production. 

While methane isn't considered a smog pollutant, it doesn't get emitted by itself. It comes out of a stack or valve, or leaks from a pipeline combined with smog-forming VOCs. So the more you control VOC pollution, the more you control methane pollution.

In light of last week's announcement, this gives EPA an extra incentive to go after VOC emissions in DFW even though the conventional wisdom is that it's combustion-generated Nitrogen Oxide pollution that really makes DFW smog so bad. 

BTW, that conventional wisdom is under attack because the worst-performing air monitoring sites in North Texas are all in the Barnett Shale and heavily influenced by pollution from oil and gas facilities – both NOX and VOCs. It's possible to imagine a strategy to get smog numbers down in DFW solely by application of oil and gas emission regulations that can impact these important monitors – which drive the entire region's fate –  even if the new regs have minimal impact on monitors elsewhere. 

What kind of new regulations are we talking about?

* Start with the electrification of all 650 large natural gas compressors in the 10-county area. 

* Do the same thing for all drilling rigs in the same 10-county area – nothing but electric. 

* Emission standards for tanks and pipelines that reflect the latest leak-detection technology. 

Inclusion of new EPA “Control Technique Guidelines" which are part of Agency's new methane rules. According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone." 

Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog receive "an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources."

SIP GAP Pic

There's one more reason EPA has an incentive to go looking for all the cuts in oil and gas pollution it can find in the 10-county DFW non-attainment area: after the cement kilns, there's no other major sources the Agency can target locally. 

Because while it has the authority in a federal clean air plan to regulate all pollution sources in that 10-county DFW non-Attainment area, the EPA can't write new emission standards for the East Texas coal plants located 100 miles outside of that 10-county area – even though those coal plants have more of an impact on North Texas smog than any other source of pollution. EPA (and us) can put pressure on the state to address these dinosaurs, but it can't touch them through a DFW air plan. 

EPA staff has estimated it will take a cut of 100-200 TONS PER DAY in local smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution for DFW reach the current 75 parts per billion smog standard.  The State's "plan" – i.e. the federal gasoline fuel changes it relies on –  only represents a 20-40 tons per day cut.

Where do the other 60 -160 tons a day in cuts come from? 

To give you some idea of the size of that gap, the state estimates that all on and off road vehicles in the 10-county area will emit 161 tons per day of NOx in 2018. 

State-of-the-art controls on all the cement plants might give you up to 15 tons a day. Electrification of the large compressors, another 15-16 tons per day eventually. After that it gets hard to find large volumes of cuts without the coal plants. And this is why the EPA should give cuts in VOC/methane a longer look than they have before  – they're concentrated in the same areas where the region's worst-performing monitors are and they represent a huge source of climate change pollution that could also be another skin on the wall in addition to lowering smog levels. 

There's no question the passage of HB40 has stymied grassroots progress toward more protective regulation of fracking by municipal governments in the Barnett Shale. It's thrown what was a fairly successful local movement into disarray. To date, there doesn't appear to be any consensus about strategies to combat the effects of the legislation. 

But a way to outflank some of the impacts of HB 40 coming is coming down the pike, and it offers local fracktivists an opportunity to rally round a common, achievable goal – lowering emission levels across the board in the Barnett Shale. We can overlay a larger, stricter regional template for oil and gas regulation in place of 100 separate municipal ones.

What better way to nullify the efforts of the nullifiers in Austin?  

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Ref.Itm_3.4.rtc021116 p2_Page_2Don't look now, but Michael ("never met a freeway proposal I didn't like") Morris, the long-time Director of Transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, has gotten a case of the Vapors. 

Was it some new threat to the Trinity Tollroad that sent Mr. Morris into a tizzy? Some "regional mobility" crisis?

No, nothing as small-minded as those examples. 

Instead it's the "vulgar" language used by DFW residents in the state's public hearing on its new do-nothing air plan on January 21st that makes Mr Morris so darn mad he feels he has to apologize to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for it in a letter last month.

You see the hearing took place at NCTCOG headquarters in Arlington, in the COG conference room Mr. Morris uses to rule his freeway fiefdom from as the force behind the Regional Transportation Council. 

We suspect that almost everyone official, including Mr. Morris, thought it would be another dreary affair when the conference room was offered up as a hearing space. But citizens had other ideas. After 20 years of failure, they weren't in any mood to accept another "plan" from the state that required no new pollution controls on any sources. They were mad as hell, and they weren't going to take it anymore. 

No question more than one person uttered words and phrases you will not hear in Church. These were intentional and meant to shock everyone out of official complacency in another just-going-through-the-motions regulatory exercise. Commentators were following the advice of John Maynard Keynes: "Picturesque language, used right, serves an important purpose. Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking."  

"Unthinking" is a generous way to describe the State's air plan. 

Far from being "meaningless," as Morris' letter to the TCEQ asserts, the use of "bad words" at the hearing on the 21st was packed with decades of frustration. They meant something precisely because they had never been uttered before in such a place by people who had worked in good faith for so long on DFW's chronic smog problem.  They meant something because citizens realize they no longer have anything to lose in calling out the State for its shamelessness. It meant something because the story that was told by employees the next day at TCEQ HQ in Austin and EPA HQ in Dallas was not the usual script for these things, but how badly the State got its ass kicked, and how genuinely angry the crowd was that nothing was being done about DFW bad air – again.

sticker,375x360.u5

"Bad words" put an exclamation point on a problem. They can also unmask the Killing-Us-Softly language and protocol the TCEQ uses to make decisions that harm the public health. They pull back the curtain and give a more accurate, if less polite, perspective. If some citizens were dropping F-bombs toward the TCEQ at the hearing, they were only giving as good as they were getting. 

Because make no mistake about it, in the way the State has drafted and approved this plan, it's making it's own bold declaration of F*** YOU to EPA and seven million DFW breathers.

By conservative estimates, the State's air plan for DFW needed to cut up to 200 tons per day or more of smog-forming pollution to get the the current ozone standard by the deadline of 2017. Instead the state is submitting a plan that gets only 20-40 tons per day of cuts – all from a change in federal gasoline rules. The EPA had already warned Texas in writing that the plan didn't include new, lower emission limits for the Midlothian cement kilns, and this exclusion would mean the plan was not meeting the Clean Air Act. The State submitted the same plan anyway. 

But there was no criticism of this obscene gesture in Morris' letter. Instead he says he looks forward to working in continued partnership with the TCEQ – a partnership which has produced five (going on six) failed air plans and over twenty years of non-compliance with the Clean Air Act. Huzzah.

And that's why citizens were right to call out the TCEQ the way they did on the 21st. Here's an agency, COG, that's nominally, but officially assigned the role of local consultants on air planning for seven million DFW residents, and it's taking a complete whiff on the State's clear-eyed strategy of nullifying the Clean Air Act. If it can't even bring itself to mildly criticize the state for submitting a plan that's, you know, both unworkable and illegal, what other choice do citizens have but to scream bloody murder at the top of their lungs? 

We're proud to have played a part in making DFW a hostile work environment for the political hacks who now run and staff the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. They don't deserve to have an easy time of it. They should fear being run out on a rail or verbally tarred and feathered every time they make an appearance here. It's the only way citizens have to effectively show how they feel about a government that not only isn't listening, but has no interest in listening. 

It's also activity protected by the First Amendment, a technicality that Morris seems like he's desperate to address for fear of his conference room being sullied by another severe outbreak of democracy. 

And that's the thing about Morris' response. He's very concerned about the bad words. Not so much about the bad air.

You could put all the F-bombs dropped on the 21st on hundreds of billboards next to schools, and churches, and Mr. Morris' beloved freeways, where thousands would see and be offended by them. You could broadcast them over a loud speaker going through "nice" neighborhoods. You could open a website devoted to nothing but evangelizing their use or a cable channel that repeated them 24/7. You could assault people from every direction with bad words every waking minute of their day, and you'd still be doing less harm to the public than even one more month of dirty air courtesy of the state, and Mr. Morris's silence. 

As for those citizens who were there on the 21st to give the start a hide tanning it deserved, maybe they were taking Jane Jacobs lesson to heart: "We had been ladies and gentlemen and only got pushed around."

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Jeff Mosier DMN 2Notice came on Friday that the Dallas Morning News had finally decided to fill the environmental beat reporter position left vacant by Randy Lee Loftis' departure. The lucky winner was announced via a response to a reader's comment on a story about the Lake Lewisville BLM fracking lease sale. 

"This is just one more reason the Morning News needs an environmental beat reporter," wrote the reader.

"That would be me," replied reporter Jeff Mosier, whose debut under his new job title was that day's story on the BLM  fracking lease. 

Shortly after, Mosier sent out this "job status" tweet with picture of the Lake Lewisville story, "My debut as environmental writer for @dallasnews. I'll spend more time at landfills than Super Bowls now"

That's a reference to Mosier's stint as a DMN SportsDay reporter covering the Cowboys on and off since at least 2004. Texas environmental politics is definitely a contact sport, but that's not the reason he was picked. He's a News journeyman who came to the paper with a lot of other former Times Herald employees in 1994 and rose through the ranks on a number of different beats. Here's a sampling of his coverage of Dallas City Hall goings-on. So local politics is not a foreign subject matter.

More on point, he was writing for the News' Tarrant County/Fort Worth Bureau in the early stages of the citizen backlash to urban drilling in the Barnett Shale. He's familiar with the issues surrounding fracking and wrote about them from roughly 2009 to 2013. Some examples: 

Air tests at natural gas drilling sites fuel concerns in Barnett Shale

State will report today on Barnett Shale air pollutants

Texas House bill seeks to scale back city gas drilling restrictions

Arlington suing Chesapeake Exploration over claims of unpaid natural gas royalties

Cowboys Stadium site isn't expected to be used for gas drilling

From all previous indications, it looked like the News was grooming long-time Educational Reporter Jeffery Weiss to take Loftis' place. Weiss covered the unveiling of Downwinders' UNT Ozone Study and Dr. Robert Haley's Public Health Cost Study back in October, as well as the subsequent Dallas County Commissioners' resolution on reducing pollution from obsolete East Texas coal plants. But apparently Weiss is being put in charge of Energy coverage for the paper. 

These moves are all part of a large shake-up of the entire Morning News newsroom as the paper tries to make the on-going rocky transition from print to digital. Lofttis' retirement could have been seen as a chance to do some necessary belt-tightening at the expense of a hunk of coverage. To the paper's credit, it resisted that temptation and named a new environmental beat reporter. 

While Mosier's not a complete neophyte, he faces a steep learning curve. Give him some slack as he begins to reacquaint himself with The Way Things Really Work, and let's see if he can provide the public with needed clear-eyed reports from the front. 

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When Was the Last Time you Saw This?

by jim on February 11, 2016

Daniel Campaign MaileCan you even remember the last time you received a DFW political mailer that spoke about the value of air that won't make you sick or kill you, much less a whole piece devoted to the subject? Neither can we. That's what makes this mailer from incumbent Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel so welcome. 

In an oversized 9 x11 mailer that went to 5 to 6000 households in District 1, under the headline, "Clean Air. It's Worth Fighting For," Daniel states, "Our region is failing to meet emissions standards. It's a public health issue. It's a cost issue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We are doing something about it by fighting for air quality." 

On the back are four – count 'em – four paragraphs discussing the recent UNT local air quality study Downwinders sponsored, as well as Dr. Robert Haley's associated examination of the costs of dirty air, and the County Court resolution sponsored by Daniel last November asking the judge overseeing the Energy Future Holdings (Texas Utilities) bankruptcy case to clean-up the company's old East Texas lignite coal plants due to their large impact on DFW smog. 

This pairing of issue to elected official is a consequence of Downwinders' Ozone Attainment Project, which produced the UNT study, but also put together a committee of local leaders to oversee it. Former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher chaired it. During her time in office about a decade ago, Keliher was the most influential local leader on air quality. She rode roughshod over what is now seen as the most effective clean air plan in DFW's two-decade old struggle to meet clean air standards – the one that came closest to working, however fleetingly. With her institutional knowledge of the issues and process, one of the co-benefits of Judge Keliher chairing our UNT study committee was being able to mentor a new generation of local elected officials on air quality. 

Commissioner Daniel was one of the most active and vocal members of that committee. By her own admission, she didn't know a lot about air quality at the beginning, but she kept coming to the committee briefings and learning. Over the last year, she's become more confident in her understanding of the DFW dirty air narrative, to the point of now leading meetings with other officials. 

Daniel and her fellow Project Committee member Dallas County Councilwoman Sandy Greyson have become a new dynamic duo for the cause of regional air quality. They represent a brand new wave of local leadership on the issue – one that has been sorely lacking even as DFW sunk deeper into chronic dirty air thanks to a state government that doesn't think smog is that big of a deal. You may remember that Greyson testified at the recent Arlington hearing on the State's do-nothing smog plan, and Daniel sent her Chief of Staff to speak. Had they not served on the Keliher/UNT Committee, it's likely neither would have even known about the event. 

Even as they become more active, they're drawing more of their peers into the discussion – County Commissioners and City Council members in other parts of the "non-attainment area."  For the first time in this decade, clean air has some serious advocates at the local level 

Downwinders had a plan. We wanted to take away the state's exclusive power over the model that drives all the clean air decisions for the region and educate elected officials about the importance of winning the fight over chronic smog. We not only got an unprecedented study that used the State's own data to contradict it's conclusions about no new controls needed –  we got at least two strong elected officials as new advocates for the cause that were in on that exercise from the beginning. 

We didn't know Commissioner Daniel was going to send this mailer out, but it's one more beneficial side effect of grinding things out on a local level. 

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doogie door runThis plan won't work.

That's the simple message from the three pages of new comments Region 6 EPA staff submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last month concerning its anti-smog plan for DFW.

That message begins with the cover letter, written by Mary Stanton, Chief of the State Implementation Plan Section for Region 6. "… additional local and regional ozone precursor emission reductions will be necessary to reach attainment by 2017."

How much in reductions? EPA estimates an additional 100-200 tons per day more in cuts of smog-forming pollution will be necessary to achieve compliance with the current 75 parts per billion ozone standard. "Without emission reductions on this scale, it is unlikely that the area will attain by the attainment date.”

To give you some idea of how large a number that is, TCEQ calculates that all gas and oil air pollution in DFW equals 78 tons per day, the Midlothian cement plants belch out over 18 tons per day, and all the power plants in the immediate DFW area, 21 tons per day.  Totaled, those three sources add up to 117 tons of pollution a year. 

All the cars and trucks on DFW roads are said to add up to 180 tons per day of pollution.

So the decrease in pollution EPA is saying is necessary to get down to the current ozone standard is huge. 

Martin Lake Coal Plant

But take a look at those obsolete East Texas coal plants outside the boundaries the DFW nonattainment area. TCEQ says they account for a total of 146 tons per day.  Add Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which can get you up to 90% reductions in coal plant emissions, or close them down completely, add decreases from new controls on the cement kilns and oil and gas sources, and you're well on your way to amassing 200 tons a day of cuts in pollution. 

Which do you think is more attractive to most DFW residents: permanently parking their cars, or putting new controls on the coal plants? Even though the coal plants harm the whole DFW airshed more than any other major source, they're not held accountable to the same regulatory requirements as sources closer to the center of the urban core, but which have less impact. Our cars must have special gasoline formulas in summer, we have to have HOV lanes, and we still go through Ozone Action Days, but the coal plants party like it's 1979. TCEQ is taking a hands-off approach to the plants and as a result the DFW region will continue to be in violation of the smog standard or huge cuts from other sources will be necessary.

TCEQ could have added new controls to the coal plants to the plan, but it chose not to. In fact, there are no new controls in the state's plan on any major sources of air pollution affecting DFW. EPA's new comments go to the heart of that choice. "Without additional emission reduction measures, we don’t see how the area will meet the standard of 75 ppb by the end of the 2017 ozone season," writes EPA staff.

EPA goes on to say TCEQ's computer modeling supporting it's do-nothing plan is "unrealistic," severely underestimating future smog levels, and delivering projections of decreases "that seem unlikely to be reached." 

DV 98-2015With this stance, EPA seems poised to reject this "attainment demonstration" part of the air plan as being insufficient. But it must wait to see how TCEQ responds to EPA comments about its modeling shortcomings and need for new cuts when the state officially submits its plan this July. Then, and ony then can the Agency approve or disapprove. We're going out on a limb here and predicting TCEQ won't change a thing, thus inviting EPA disapproval. 

That's the pattern TCEQ has already established with its "screw you" response to the EPA's comments about the part of the plan dealing with "Reasonably Available Control Technology," or RACT, last February.  This second part decides what new controls should be required of major sources of air pollution within the 10-County DFW "non-attainment" area – like the Midlothian cement plants and the thousands of oil and gas facilities checkerboarding the western half of the Metromess.

TCEQ says nothing new is required. EPA disagrees. EPA told TCEQ last year it had to do a new RACT review and lower the kiln's emission limits to account for a new generation of technology or it would have to reject the state's plan. TCEQ ignored the request, daring the EPA to disapprove. EPA seems more than willing to take them up on the offer.

And so while you're waiting for the state's computer modeling and suspect math to be rejected by EPA in July, you can probably expect to see EPA officially rejecting the RACT part of the state's plan sooner – maybe as soon as the next 60-90 days. 

Despite the TCEQ going out of its way to submit an unacceptable plan to EPA, if the Agency pulls the trigger and begins a federal takeover of the DFW air plan, the Commission and the whole of Texas State Government will cry bloody murder about the usurpation of the state's authority and once again proclaim how "out of control" the EPA is on their way to filing suit.

Hearing PresserThis is why the rowdy eruption of public sentiment for an EPA plan at the hearing in Arlington two weeks ago was so critical (Thank you again).  It's also why we now have to be about the business of getting DFW local governments, hospitals and school districts to pass resolutions in favor of an EPA takeover. The Agency will need this kind of public support to counter all the criticism it will take from the Usual Suspects in Austin and DC. If you're interested in helping us pass one of these resolutions in your county, city, school or hospital district, please let us know at: downwindersatrisk@gmail.com

And as always, it's why you, and people you know should:

1) Send EPA officials an email urging them to reject the TCEQ air plan for DFW and substitute one of its own.

2) Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition in favor of an EPA plan.

3) Send out our SOS@EPA short video far and wide. 

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In Defense of Mary Suhm. No. Really.

by jim on January 28, 2016

Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer came across an interesting piece of video the other day. It was the deposition of former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm in the on-going lawsuit between jilted gas driller Trinity East and the City.

In their cross-examination, lawyers for Trinity East are asking Suhm about a secret (at least to the Council and the public) 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties trading Special Use Permits for gas drilling and production sites the company wanted to access on City-owned flood plain and park land – despite prohibitions on drilling in those places at the time of the agreement – in return for $19 million in upfront leasing payments.

Trinity East's lawyers want Suhm to say the agreement "guaranteed" the permits, and when the Plan Commission subsequently voted to deny them, and the City Council lacked the super-majority to override that denial, the City, by way of its agent in this matter Mary Suhm, defaulted on the agreement. 

City of Dallas lawyers want Suhm to say Trinity East executives knew the drilling sites were off-limits at the time they signed the memo and, despite paying the City of Dallas $19 million before they got their permits, the company knew it was not a sure thing. According to the City's lawyers, what Trinity got was precisely what Suhm promised in the agreement: her best efforts to maneuver the company's permits through City Hall bureaucracy.

Mary Suhm's Depo in TE caseThe crux of this back and forth comes at about the 4:30 point of the five minute video when Trinity East's lawyer, on behalf of his client, asks, "What is it they get for their $19 million dollars?"

Suhm says Trinity East "got the right to apply" for SUP permits.

But those permits cost considerably less than $19 million. What was Trinity East really paying for with those leasing checks, and did they get their money's worth?

Allow us to defend Mary Suhm.

When Trinity East wrote those checks, Suhm was riding high as City Manager and her command over Council affairs was already legend, especially as she negotiated the city budget through very tight times. Trinity knew the signature of a mere elected official was not sufficient. Those come and go at City Hall with hardly anyone noticing. It wanted the boss's John Hancock on the document and the boss was Mary Suhm.

Besides a perfectly legal and hefty bribe when the City needed it during the Great Recession, Trinity was investing in the power of Mary Suhm and her relationships with the Powers-That-Be. The company had every confidence as the ring master of the downtown circus, Suhm could make things happen that otherwise wouldn't happen. She was in control. 

Trinity East wasn't wrong – in 2008. Had they pursued their permit requests in the next one to three years, there's every likelihood Trinity East would have received them.

But the company waited until 2011.

What had happened in those intervening three years?

Rawling Refinery Pic copy

There was a drilling backlash beginning to reach full volume in the Barnett Shale, aided by a new national awareness of fracking as it spread to other parts of the country. Josh Fox's "Gasland" came out in 2010 and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011. Burning tap water replaced a folksy Tommy Lee Jones as the face of gas drilling in North Texas. Citizen groups were sprouting in every city with drilling fighting for larger buffer zones and more pollution controls. There were stories in the media all the time. Because no health or environmental studies had been done on urban fracking, all kinds of new ones were launched or just being reported on for the first time.

In light of the new controversy, Councilwoman Angela Hunt helped drive the City to convene a gas drilling task force, giving residents a chance to organize around the issue before Trinity East even applied for their permits. Every concern – air, water, even earthquakes –  that would later become ammunition for opponents showed up in this task force process first.

Scott Griggs ran for Dallas City Council from one of the districts targeted by new gas drilling permits and won on an anti-drilling platform against an incumbent. He joined Hunt as a fierce critic of Dallas urban drilling. Neighborhoods were showing new muscle.

And so the stage was set for more of an uphill fight than what Trinity probably would have confronted in 2010.

Mary Suhm must have taken note of some of this and sighed when Trinity finally put in for its permits. Now they show-up?

Still, let the record show she put on a stiff upper lip and gave 110% to the cause of getting Dallas City Hall to approve Trinity East's permits. She contorted bureaucracies. She muscled appointees and council members alike. She and her staff worked overtime to try to subvert every move of the growing opposition to Trinity East's permits. When the company lost, it wasn't because Mary Suhm didn't pull out all the stops, but despite the fact she did.

Now, we're pretty sure this is a defense the City of Dallas lawyers don't want to use, but we offer it up here in case they need to break the glass and begin building firebreaks in court to keep from paying back the $19 million.

These are only the most egregious examples residents know about.

Gasland poster

2011 Gas Drilling Task Force

In retrospect, it's easy to see Suhm's manipulation behind the last-minute Task Force endorsements of park and flood plain drilling. And when we say last-minute, we mean it.

Task Force members had already voted to keep the prohibition against drilling in these areas at a previous business meeting. The last meeting of the Task Force was supposed to be a pro forma affair that would ratify all previous recommendations and send them along to Council. Task Force member attendance was therefore down. This is when Task Force Chairwoman and former city council member Lois Finkelman chose to spring new votes on these two issues and these two issues only –  and won a reversal on each. Not only of the Task Force positions – but of current city policy, which of course didn't allow drilling in either area then.

Many excuses were used to justify this re-examination and re-vote that day, but none of them were the truth. Finkelman and staff were doing Suhm's bidding, and she was looking out for Trinity East. While it's not clear if Finkelman knew about Suhm's secret agreement, you can be sure Suhm, or someone on her behalf, made it clear to Finkelman it was VERY important to get these exemptions. Finkelman had been a friend to the clean air movement and other environmental causes during her tenure on the Council in the 1990's, but caved because of her relationship with Suhm, a belief she was helping the City out of a jam, or some other reason. At the end of the day, she weakened proposed city policy in accordance with what Trinity East wanted.

This is certainly something Trinity East got for its $19 million.

2012 Xmas Plan Commission Hearing on Trinity East Permits

Scheduled on December 20th, 2012, this was the first time gas drilling permits had been voted on for Dallas in three years, or pre-national outrage. It occurred before the Task Force recommendations had been considered and adopted into policy. In other words, after a call to reform its outdated drilling ordinance, and after a special Task Force had already been convened and issued its recommendations, Dallas was now about to grant three new permits, including one for a compressor station and refinery, under the old ordinance it was trying to replace. What was the rush? Why not wait and approve new permits until after the Task Force recommendations are written into a new ordinance? Because that would cause further public debate. More debate would highlight the problems of drilling in sensitive areas like park land and flood plains – still off limits in Dallas at the time.

In a transparent attempt to limit public awareness and participation even more, the City decided to hold this important hearing only five days before Christmas. Again, in retrospect, this has Mary Suhm's fingerprints all over it. And it almost worked. But just enough citizens showed up, representing enough well known groups and neighborhood organizations, and citing just enough new facts that had changed the situation since 2008 to win the climatic vote, 7 to 5 at 7:30 pm that evening. It was uncertain which way the decision would go right up until the very end.

Showing-up expecting to lose, instead citizens were elated. Overturning the denial would take a super majority of 12 votes on the Council – something that even then seemed unlikely. Citizens thought they had won. Mary Suhm had tried her best to rig the system, but the rigging failed. She tried again.

Drilling City Hall

January- February 2013 Plan Commission "Reconsideration Vote" on Previous Permit Denial

Because she'd lost the December Plan Commission vote and knew she might not be able to get the 12 votes on the Council to overturn, Suhm had to do something creative. Viola! The Plan Commission would have a vote to "reconsider" their denial of Trinity East's permits only 21 days earlier. Nobody could remember the last time the Plan Commission even took such a vote. It was unprecedented. It was also Mary Suhm's handiwork.

That do-over decision came at a "special meeting" of the Plan Commission on January 10th, with a 6 to 5 vote to indeed take another vote on Trinity East's permits. This outcome, done under heavy police presence and with no public participation allowed, spurred one of the most iconic moments at Dallas City Hall in recent years – a 3 to five minute spontaneous standing crowd chant of "Shame."

You can see the speed at which Suhm is moving behind the scenes to engineer a better outcome after her unexpected defeat before Christmas. She's doing exactly what she promised Trinity East she would do. She's working the levers. Making things happen that would never otherwise happen. But now, it's costing her more to do so. The contortions of the system necessary to get the permits through are getting more twisted and harder to pull off gracefully. She's gone from talks with friends behind closed doors to forcing awkward "do-over" votes. It was obvious to the public there was something special about these Trinity East permits. Company officials had been dropping hints about some sort of an agreement with the City. Mayor Rawlings said permitting these sites "were a done deal" – although he didn't say why. It was getting messy.

Finally, on February 7th, the day the Plan Commission had scheduled the "do-over" vote, the Dallas Observer broke the story on the Suhm-Trinity East agreement. It was now clear what was driving the favoritism behind the treatment of the Trinity East permits by City Hall – going all the way back to the last-minute reversal of the Task Force, to the Christmas time hearing, to the pending "reconsider vote."

The timing could not have been worse for Suhm. We'll never know what the vote to reconsider might have been were there no headlines pointing to a City Hall cover-up. She may have thought she had the votes to keep the Trinity East permits alive. But with the story breaking that very day, the spotlight was too bright on the Plan Commission to take a new vote. Citizens won a reprieve and eventually a victory as the Commission requested the City Council deal with changing the current prohibitions against parkland and floodplain drilling before asking them to violate current ordinances again. That never happened. Instead, the three Trinity East permits were again denied by the Plan Commission in March 2013, albeit by razor-thin 8 to 7 and 9 to 6 margins.

Dallas Gas PresserAnd that was that. Suhm was gone in four months. Officially it wasn't because of the cover-up of the Trinity East agreement, but of course everyone knew it was because the whole thing was headed to court one way or the other. 

Although the Mayor tried to rally 12 votes on the Council to overturn, he couldn't do it. The prospect of the kind of rolicking citizen protests keeping the Plan Commission on the 6 o'clock news showing up at a Council Meetings could not have helped his cause at this point. 

Urban fracking opponent Philip Kingston had replaced Hunt on the Council, Griggs was still there, and they were joined by enough other council members (Sandy Greyson, Monica Alonzo, Carolyn Davis, and Adam Medrano) to insure the Plan Commission vote would prevail.

At the end of the day, Trinity East walked away empty-handed. but make no mistake about it. Mary Suhm did all she could to subvert the system for Trinity East.

Had the Dallas Observer not revealed the secret agreement, she might have even won the day for the company and still be City Manager. Was it $19 million worth of subversion? At today's inflated rates, who knows? But other than funding a small army and declaring herself dictator of the Drilling Republic of Dallas, she did all she could.

If you're Trinity East you can complain about the outcome, but you can't complain about her effort. There were too many variables out of her control for once. Not the least of which was a vigorous, rowdy, neighborhood-based movement against urban fracking in Dallas that was taking the fight to the public square…and winning. Sometimes, even the most powerful City Manager is on the wrong side of history.

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