road signIt was only eight days ago the that online Texas Tribune did the first real overview of DFW air quality for this "ozone season." Borrowing heavily from the June 16th Downwinders at Risk presentation to the North Texas regional air quality committee, it concluded that there had been no discernible progress in regional air quality for the past five to six years despite a new state anti-smog plan aimed at getting the area below the 1997 standard of 85 parts per billion.

Ironically, up to that point, DFW had been enjoying one of the wettest, coolest, most ozone alert-free summers on record. Not one 100 degree day until July and only one "bad air" days of note on June 11th. It looked like we might actually be able to meet the 1997 standard of 85 ppb for the very first time.

That's all changed with this past weeks' return to familiar form. In just seven days, they've been at least four official "ozone alerts" issued for DFW by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Those had produced four "exceedences" of the current 75 parts ppb standard, which the state is now aiming at with another "do nothing" plan under development and due out by the end of the year. On Wednesday the trend got more serious with the addition of the first two "exceedences" of the older 1997 standard we can't seem to conquer – a reading of 88 ppb at the NW Fort Worth monitor at Meacham Field and a 91 at the usually quiet Granbury monitor in Hood County. In the latter case, one mid-afternoon hourly reading reached as high as 113 – just 12ppb short of a violation of an even more ancient standard left over from the 1980's. 

For comparison's sake, EPA scientists just sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recommending that a new, lower federal standard for ozone be set at 60-70 ppb.

It will still take another week of 85 ppb plus days to produce the "fourth highest" readings at the Denton or Keller sites to combine with their 2013 averages and keep DFW in violation of a 17-year old ozone standard. But then again, we have all of August and September to go.

Not surprisingly, two of this summer's hot spots include traditionally troublesome monitors – the Denton and NW Fort Worth site. Tarrant and Denton Counties have historically been the places where the region's highest readings have originated. One reason is wind direction – smog accumulates from upwind sources like the Midlothian cement plants and blows Northwest during the summer. Another more recent reason is the mining of Barnett Shale gas deposits that release huge quantities of smog-forming pollution in the western half of the Metromess, a phenomenon that's been examined in a new UNT study that divided the region's ozone monitors into "Fracking" and "Non-Fracking" areas and found significantly higher readings among those in the Fracking area.

As we went to press with this post, Thursday's readings looked to be producing another round of 75 ppb or higher results. Adding to this year's ozone season irony is that over the last 20 years, July has traditionally been the summer month that produced the fewest number of high ozone readings, book-ended by higher numbers in June and August-September.

Depending on the weather, DFW may still be able to make it over the 1997 standard, 85 ppb hump. But based on this past week's results, that hump just got bigger. Stay tuned.

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New Encyclopedia of Fracking Harms

by jim on July 21, 2014

britannica-decoder-blog480Those that keep up with these things know the rate of new information about fracking has increased almost exponentially for the past couple of years. New studies arrive monthly covering a host of subjects – air pollution, water contamination, earthquakes from injection wells, truck traffic, etc. So many it's hard to keep up and get a view above the fray. Now, at least for the next couple of months, there's a new comprehensive guide for journalists, citizens, and policymakers that tries to put all the latest evidence into one publication.

Produced by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York, the new document has the slightly unwieldy title of "Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking." Clocking in at over 60 pages, it does manage to cover a lot of ground, including air and water pollution, occupational hazards, noise pollution, earthquakes, flooding, radioactive releases, climate change, agricultural threats, crime rates, property values, and the inflated economics of gas reserves. In short, for now, it appears to be the one-stop shop for everything you wish you didn't need to know about fracking, but wanted to ask.

Extensively researched and footnoted, the Compendium is something you can hand your city council member or State Representative in hopes that their superficial scanning at least produces a better appreciation for the myriad of hazards now associated with the practice.

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SCR as holy-grailSwiss-based Holcim Cement is requesting a permit amendment to add new piece of pollution control equipment to its Midlothian cement plant, one of three cement plants that make the city the "Cement Capitol of Texas" and the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. Good news, right? The problem is that the company is asking the state for the permit before deciding what kind of pollution control equipment to install.

That's right. Holcim is asking the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to OK a permit that will result in a "major modification" of its Midlothian plant and could produce significant amounts of new pollution before it even decides what the major modification is going to be. Anywhere else in the country this might be a bit odd, but hey, it's Texas, where Rick Perry's TCEQ has a rubber stamp standing by for anything industry requests.

Holcim's permit request is being prompted by a problem complying with new federal regulations limiting a kind of pollution called Total Hydrocarbons, or THCs. These are also sometimes referred to as "Volatile Organic Compounds." Think Benzene, and other kinds of hazardous flammable gases. In its permit application Holcim says it needs to add new controls to reduce THC to levels and come under the new federal standard. Fair enough. The company then says that it's still trying to decide between two different types of controls and will make up its mind after getting the permit and seeing how well its choice works out on one of its two separate giant kilns. That's the bogus part.

But wait, there's more! The two technologies Holcim is considering installing in Midlothian are: 1) A Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer, or RTO, which is a fancy way of saying setting them on fire and flaring them off, and, 2) A Selective Catalytic Reduction unit, or SCR, which is a tower of treated metal honeycombs that pick up pollution as the plant exhaust passes through them. RTOs are already installed on American cement plants, including TXI's huge Midlothian kiln just a few miles down Highway 67 from Holcim. On the other hand, up to now full-scale commercial SCR units have only been installed on European cement plants and in fact, the Portland Cement Association has lobbied long and hard to keep them out of the US for fear of raising the pollution control bar too high for all of the country's cement plants.

That's because SCR is more expensive to build and maintain than most cement plant control devices. But for the money, you get the Holy Grail of cement plant pollution control technology.

Most of the European cement plants that have SCR units install them to remove another type of pollution from their stacks – Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). If that sounds familiar, it's because NOx is a major smog-forming pollutant, and DFW has so much of it that the region has never been in compliance with the Clean Air Act standard for smog. And you'll never guess which facilities are the single largest sources of NOx pollution in North Texas. Or maybe you will: the Midlothian cement plants.  That's why Downwinders at Risk has made it a point to campaign to require all three Midlothian cement plants -  Holcim, TXI and Ash Grove – to install SCR….since all the way back in 2001, when the first European units were deemed a success at a German cement plant. SCR can remove 80 to more than 90% of all NOx coming out of a cement kiln. The 6500 tons of NOx a year that the Midlothian cement plants are permitted to release could be reduced to 650 tons with the application of SCR.

Now, as it turns out, SCR units are great not only at capturing large amounts of NOx pollution, but all kinds of other industrial pollution coming out of cement plants as well. Like THCs – up to 70% or so, but also Particulate Matter, Metals, Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Monoxide, and Dioxins. It's what's called a multi-pollutant control device because it does such a good job of eliminating a wide variety of nasty stuff from smoke stacks. This is what makes it the state-of-the-art technology for communities hosting kilns. In contrast, RTOs are single-purpose pollution devices aimed just at hydrocarbon removal and aren't designed to remove other kinds of emissions.

So even though Holcim is considering operating SCR because of its hydrocarbon problem, it would have a massive impact on the plant's air pollution across the board. And if Holcim were to set the precedent, the clock would begin ticking on bringing SCR to the other two Midlothian cement plants as well. It would only be a matter of time.

The public comment period for telling the state whether to accept or reject Holcim's permit application ends this Friday, July 11th at 5 pm. (If you're interested in jumping through the hoops to fill out the online form for official comments, you can go here and use Permit Number 8996)

Downwinders is submitting detailed comments praising Holcim for considering SCR, but urging the TCEQ to reject this permit because it's too vague and doesn't commit the company to any partciular technology, including SCR. We've also been collecting letters form local officials and stare legislators that urge Holcim to definitively choose SCR.

Now we're asking you to help us bombard both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Holcim's US headquarters in Dundee Michigan in the next 48 hours with the same message to show public support for the company to do the right thing while rejecting a placeholder permit that doesn't commit it to do that right thing.

We want a permit request from the company that says Holcim will definitely install SCR, becoming the first commercial application of this state-of-the-art technology in America.

Using our "Featured Citizen Action" link, you can send such a message to Austin and Michigan in a matter of seconds right now. All you have to do is click here and then send the e-mails. We guarantee there's no more important or easier thing you can do for clean air in North Texas this week than sending these e-mails to the TCEQ Commisisoners and Holcim Corporate leadership. Please help us get the cement plant pollution control technology DFW deserves. It will only take a matter of seconds for you to help us achieve a goal we've been working toward for 14 years. We can do this. But we need your help. Now. Thanks.

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Mansfield Water towerEver since winning the Dallas Gas Wars in December of last year, Downwinders at Risk and our partners at the Texas Campaign for the Environment have been looking for a place and time to take the responsible drilling fight deeper into the Barnett Shale. We're glad to announce that we're teaming up with the newly formed Mansfield Gas Well Awareness group to do just that.

Mansfield is a relatively small Tarrant County town with a big gas industry presence. Sandwiched between Arlington and Fort Worth, it has a population of 59,000 spread over 36 square miles. it already has 200 wells on 51 gas pads with a total of 512 planned – or an average of 14 per square mile. Many of the most problematic wells are operated by Eagle Ridge – the same company whose antics single-handedly began the current "ban fracking" campaign in Denton. Like Denton, Eagle Ridge's Mansfield wells are close to homes, and have been known to spew surrounding neighborhoods with their own scrubbing bubbles concoction from flowback operations and incurred a rare violation notice from the state in February. The city also hosts a notorious Teas Energy Midstream compressor station that's a suspect in showering homes with an oily film from what was most likely from a messy blown down accident in May.

Those incidents got people's attention. Seeing themselves as the victims of a permissive "Fort Worth Model" of gas regulation, local residents are now moving to organize around a citizen-friendly "Dallas Model" with more protective setbacks, restrictions, and monitoring. As their new website and Facebook page notes, "Mansfield Gas Well Awareness is not a movement against natural gas or exploration of natural resources.  Rather, we are against the permitting of toxic gas well activities near homes, schools, day cares, and parks.  We are a movement of concerned residents that live in Mansfield who are for clean air, safe and healthy communities, and protecting peoples' rights to peacefully enjoy their property."

As is so often the case, pollution problems on the ground are connected to ethical problems at City Hall. Mansfield councilman  Stephan Lindsey, who until recently was Mayor Pro-Tem is Senior Director of Government and Community Affairs for Quicksilver Resources, "a Fort Worth natural gas and oil exploration company" who never feels compelled to recuse himself from any votes concerning the municipality's regulation of the gas industry. Councilman and New Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Broseh is owner and President of Cam Tech, a company "dedicated to providing the drilling industry qulity pipe handling equipment," and also doesn't mind using his public office to vote on behalf of his industry interests. That means almost a third of the seven member Mansfield city council has professional gas industry ties.

As it happens, Mr. Lindsey is up for re-election next May. Old timers might recall that the Dallas drilling fight got real traction when gas friendly incumbent city council member Dave Neumann was upset by newcomer Scott Griggs way back in 2011. Although the new group hasn't officially targeted Lindsey, defeating him with a candidate more skeptical of industry claims would certainly send a strong message that Mansfield residents don't want the fox guarding their chicken coops.

The good news is that Mansfield Mayor David Cook took MGA members up on their invitation to see the Downwinders' presentation to the regional air quality meeting in Arlington on June 16th, where Director Jim Schermbeck devoted half of his time to explaining why gas compressors should be electrified. As far as we know, Cook was the only DFW are Mayor in attendance and it was a real coup for the young group to get him there.

MGWA's website already has some amazing pics and videos, as well as depressing factoids to share. If you know someone living in Mansfield, please let them know a new voice for citizens concern in on the scene and organizing to clean up the current messes as well as prevent new ones. Now that Downwinders has joined the fight, we'll certainly keep you posted on developments as well. Westward ho!

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ASTHME-ENFANT-ILLUSTRATIONIt's been a pretty nice summer in DFW so far hasn't it? Wetter and cooler than usual. More wind. According to the stats, this past month was the first June without any 100 degree days in seven years or so. Consequently, it's also the first June in forever that hasn't seen any "Orange" or "Red" ozone alert days. If this keeps up, DFW may actually come into compliance with the 1997 ozone standard of 85 parts per billion (ppb) over an 8-hour time period – a first as well.

But unless you think "global weirding" is going to produce these kinds of summers routinely from here on out, there's little cause for comfort. This year's cleaner air is a direct result of cooler weather. Substitute the hellish summer of 2011 for this mild one and you'd be seeing ozone alerts filling up your e-mail box. As a result, it's not out of the question we could meet the standard this year, but flunk it in 2015 if the weather reverts back to "normal."

In addition, while we may come in under the 1987 smog standard for the first time, the public health goal posts have moved with better science. In 2008, the Bush Administration lowered the acceptable level of smog to 75 ppb. That's the goal of the clean air plan that Downwinders and other groups are fighting the state over right now, saying it's not adequate to even get to that 75 ppb level.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality staff say we don't need to implement any major pollution control measures on cement kilns, power plants, or natural gas facilities to reach this 75 ppb goal by the deadline in 2018. All we have to do is sit back and let a new federal gasoline standard hit the market in 2017 and we'll all be fine – well, except for those millions of residents who'll be breathing-in smog greater than 75 ppb on the north and western side of the Metromess. But the TCEQ staff say we'll be "close enough." No harm, no foul say the folks from the agency where smog is not considered bad for you.

But close enough should only count in horseshoes and hand grenades, not what people breathe into their lungs. And while some of us are trying to make sure the new TCEQ plan is serious about reaching an air quality goal that's now six years old, the level of ozone considered "safe" by experts is once again going down.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last week, the Agency's own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) recommended a new smog standard of between 60 and 70 ppb, saying that there's a boatload of evidence showing that the 75 ppb level is not protective of human health, and even at 70 ppb there's significant public health harm done by bad air.

"At 70 ppb, there is substantial scientific evidence of adverse effects….including decrease in lung function, increase in respiratory symptoms, and increase in airway inflammation. Although a level of 70 ppb is more protective of public health than the current standard, it may not meet the statutory requirement to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety….our policy advice is to set the level of the standard lower than 70 ppb within a range down to 60 ppb…"

This recommendation was not unexpected. Every five years, the CASAC is legally obligated to review the scientific literature to make sure the federal ozone standard is giving adequate protection to public health. The last time it did so in 2008, the panel came to a similar conclusion to lower it somewhere between 65 and 70 ppb, but the Bush Administration ignored its own scientists and chose the higher standard instead. An Obama EPA was supposed to correct that mistake when it came into office, but then-EPA head Lisa Jackson got mugged on her way to the White House by the President's re-election campaign. Any changes were put on hold until that five year review clock began ticking again. And now the official alarm has gone off on that clock. The result is a re-affirmation of the earlier findings, this time with even more science to back up the changes.

As a result, EPA will have to decide whether or not to adopt the tougher recommendations of its scientists by December 1st of this year. If they do, a new standard will be officially adopted by 2015 and we'll have to write a new clean air plan in a couple of years to achieve that goal by the end of the decade. If it doesn't, they'll be sued, with the CASAC letter as exhibit #1, and they'll lose and have to set a new standard anyway.

Why is that important to the current debate over TCEQ's plan to meet the 75 standard?  Because the TCEQ plan leaves at least four monitors, spread out from Denton, to Keller, to Eagle Mountain Lake above 75 ppb – a standard that EPA scientists now say conclusively is not protecting public health.

"Close enough" to that 75 ppb level turns out to be too far away from real protection in light of the new recommendations for a standard below 70 ppb from the Science Advisory Committee. And that assumes you believe the computer modeling TCEQ has done to support its plan. To date, the state is 0 for 5 going back to 1991 in being able to accurately predict these things. If history is any indication, the state's plan will fail to reach its goal of 75 ppb at just about every one of the 20 monitors in DFW, not just four.

If you know your target of 75 ppb of smog over an 8-hour period is no longer a safe standard, and your current plan condones levels above that, it's not really a clean air plan.

December is not only when EPA must decide if it's going to pursue a lower smog standard. It's also when the state is scheduled to take public comment on its current DFW anti-smog plan. So you have the surreal possibility of holding public hearings over the merits of an already obsolete plan that isn't even serious about reaching its obsolete goal.

This is why DFW residents must demand a plan from Austin that aims lower, not higher. It's why they must demand the EPA not allow TCEQ to get away with being "close enough" to a standard that's not protecting their health. A real clean air plan would be shooting for an average of 65-70 ppb knowing that that standard will be coming down the road sooner or later. A real clean air plan wouldn't allow any monitor to exceed the current 75 standard. A real clean air plan would try to do its best to protect public health by implementing pollution control measures on the sources of smog that are the cheapest and most effective to target – Midlothian's cement plants, east and central Texas coal plants, and the natural gas industry. 

And that's exactly what Downwinders and other members of the new DFW Clean Air Network are trying to do. We're pushing for stricter EPA enforcement of the 75 ppb standard, and we're pushing for adoption of "Reasonably Available Control Measures" on the cement plants and gas compressors – now, not later. Because the only way DFW breathers are going to get a better clean air plan out of Austin and Washington is by organizing for one themselves.

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Orange smog in DallasJust last week at the June regional air quality planning meeting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was bemoaning the fact that the weather too often determines how bad an "ozone season" DFW will have. And it's true. When we have really hot, dry, and windless summers, ozone levels soar as they did as recently as 2011-2012 when the recent drought seemed to reach its most awful heights in DFW. Conversely, when we have relatively cool, wet and windy summers, ozone levels abate, as they seem to be doing this year – at least so far.

Of course, the TCEQ spokesperson was using weather as an excuse why DFW hadn't yet achieved compliance with the 1997 ozone standard after two tries that fell short. Completely overlooked was the fact that the last state air plan for DFW in 2011 promised historically low ozone levels by 2013 without any new pollution controls on major sources of pollution. Combine that lack of action with a really hot, dry summer like we saw in 2011, and you get the first clean air plan ever to leave ozone levels higher after it ended than when it started.

That's why it's important to think about the weather when you're trying to build new clean air plans for DFW that stretch years into the future. Air quality planners have to ask themselves if between now and the next federal clean air plan deadline of 2018, will there be more summers like this seemingly anomalous one, or will they more like the summer of 2011 when we had a constant barrage of 100 degree plus days as early as March?

Currently, the TCEQ is using a stretch of bad air days from 2006 to predict ozone levels between now and 2018 in their computer model for the DFW air plan to comply with the new, tougher 2008 ozone standard. But 2006 was pre-drought. Although they say they're "adjusting" the meteorology to compensate for weather changes since then, do you really trust TCEQ to assume worst-case weather scenarios when they're still trying to hide the smog impacts of gas pollution from the public? Us either.

So it's with more than a little self-interest that we note a new Stanford study with the too-sexy title of "Occurrence and Persistence of Future Atmospheric Stagnation Events" concluding that the Western US, including Texas, should expect hotter and therefore smoggier summers thanks to climate change. Why? Because hotter temperatures will slow the flow of air around the globe. That means less wind, and less wind means more time for smog-forming chemicals to sit and bake in the hot sun and form harmful levels of ozone. Historically, most of our worst ozone days are when winds are blowing less than 5 mph – stagnate air.

DFW isn't like Denver or LA where mountains form bowls around the urban areas and trap pollution in inversions. But the new study concludes the impact from global warming could have the same effect on the Texas prairie by stagnating air currents:

"Our analysis projects increases in stagnation occurrence that cover 55% of the current global population, with areas of increase affecting ten times more people than areas of decrease. By the late twenty-first century, robust increases of up to 40 days per year are projected throughout the majority of the tropics and subtropics, as well as within isolated mid-latitude regions. Potential impacts over India, Mexico and the western US are particularly acute owing to the intersection of large populations and increases in the persistence of stagnation events, including those of extreme duration. These results indicate that anthropogenic climate change is likely to alter the level of pollutant management required to meet future air quality targets."

And who's more prepared to deal with the "pollution management required to meet future (re: tougher) air quality targets than the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality?  Almost any one, including your 13-year old niece who's done so well in 8th grade science this year. Because not only is it the TCEQ's official position that smog isn't all that bad for you, but that there's really no such thing as climate change. It's why you should bring a boatload of skepticism to the computer model that's driving the currently proposed DFW clean air plan. To plug hotter and hotter temps into the DFW smog model for coming years would be admitting to a phenomena that the Rick Perry administration in Austin just can't bring itself to concede. One more example of how the DFW plan is being driven by politics, not science.

As the TCEQ's own staff admitted last week, DFW's ozone levels are often hostage to the weather. If you're model isn't correctly estimating the weather during future ozone seasons, chances are your estimates of future ozone levels will be off as well. But of course, since smog isn't really bad for you there's no downside to being wrong about these things at TCEQ HQ, and only an upside in GOP primaries.

For the rest of us who believe what the science tells us, the consequences are more dire. As the VICE magazine take on the Stanford study said:

"….one reason this study is so important to the climate change conversation—it underlines the public health threat posed by climbing temps. When Obama was touting the EPA's new carbon regulations, he emphasized the public health benefits of drawing down emissions: It would reduce asthma and respiratory illness, he pointed out. But that's largely because shuttering dirty power plants cuts both carbon and particulate pollutants simultaneously; fighting climate change also means fighting asthma.

Now, scientists have demonstrated there's an additional layer of concern to grapple with on the pollution front; climate change is going to begin blocking cities' toxic release valves. If we don't work to slow carbon emissions, these steamier cities will find their streets clogged with stagnant smog. Scrubbing that pollution and finding novel ways to clear the air, too, then, will prove to be a pressing concern in the not-so-distant future. 

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shell gameWant to see one example of how low state bureaucrats will stoop to underplay the significance of the impact of oil and gas pollution on DFW air quality? Take a look at some slides that were part of Monday's presentation by Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck to the regional air planning meeting.

In the first you'll see how the state officially ranks all the "source categories" for human-made, or "Antrhopogenic," smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in North Texas (all the numbers are Tons Per Day):

O&G source categories Jan 2014 w-arrows

 

Yes the pic is fuzzy, (we can land a person on the Moon but can't seem to get charts to show up with a jpeg format online) but if you squint really hard, you'll notice there are two categories for Oil and Gas pollution numbers among the more traditional "Point Sources," Off-Road, "On-Road", etc – "Oil and Gas Production" and "Oil and Gas – Drill Rigs." Looking at these two categories you might think that adding them together would produce total Oil and Gas pollution numbers. You'd be wrong.

As it turns out, there are other Oil and Gas pollution numbers hidden away in other categories in this chart not labeled "Oil and Gas." For example, in both the "Area" and "Point-Other" categories are the numbers for NOx and VOCs pollution from gas compressors. But wait, you object, aren't gas compressors an integral part of any kind of "Oil and Gas Production?" Yes, yes they are. So why aren't they included in that category instead of being stuffed anonymously in these other categories? Great question. Perhaps it has something to do with the volume of pollution they release. Because when you finally wrestle the numbers from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (the TCEQ didn't voluntarily offer this information), compressor pollution turns out to double the amount of smog-forming NOx released from the Oil and Gas industry in the DFW 10-county "non-attainment area." And NOx pollution is what the TCEQ keeps saying is driving our chronic smog problem. Here's the way Schermbeck presented the same TCEQ "source categories" with the compressor numbers now teased out and added to the ones already identified as Oil and Gas:Slide0065

 

These additions raise the industry's polluter profile significantly. And that's what this next slide is doing. It's totaling all the Oil and Gas pollution and then re-ranking the categories based on these new numbers. Same totals, just different, and more honest, organization of the individual source figures. Instead of Oil and Gas emissions looking relatively small in relation to other sources like cement kilns and power plants and even locomotives, it escalates the Oil and Gas industry into one of the region's foremost industrial air polluters: 

Slide0066

 

And even this much larger number is still underplaying the total amount of air pollution fracking adds to regional air quality because the state hasn't bothered to try to tease-out the "on-road" pollution that all those fracking waste and water trucks adds to the mix. State air modelers shrugged their shoulders and said they couldn't figure out how on earth to do that. Just by "Googling" the subject, Schermbeck found at least two previous studies that did that very thing – a 2005 Denton report and a 2013 Rand Corporation report that even estimated the amount of dust pollution raised by those trucks.

While those truck totals remain a mystery for now, using the TCEQ's own numbers, compressors make up at least 53% of the total NOx pollution released by the Oil and Gas industry in North Texas, and a full quarter of all VOC pollution released. According to Schermbeck, that's why they make such good targets for electrification, an air pollution control measure he was recommending as part of his larger presentation to the regional air planning committee on Monday.

This is just one example of the kind of duplicitous behavior the state of Texas is resorting to in trying to hide the true environmental and public health impact of the Oil and Gas industry. No slight of hand is too petty. Only by diligent digging by citizens is the truth coming out, ton by ton.

Schembeck's entire (unfuzzy) presentation is now online at the North Central Texas Council of Governments website as part of the June 16th agenda. It loses something without his accompanying narration but the jest of it is easily discerned for those who want to plod through it: TCEQ is doing anything but a sincere job of building a serious clean air plan for DFW. But then again, we bet you already knew that.

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-Get A Clue-The latest chapter in a decades old mystery game of "Get a Clue" happens tomorrow morning, Monday, June 16th when representatives of the Sierra Club and Downwinders at Risk present their case against the current state anti-smog plan during the regional air planning meeting at the headquarters of the North Texas Council of Governments, 616 Six Flags Road in Arlington. Come find out who and/or what keeps the DFW area from ever meeting federal clean air standards year after year and what can be done about it. The meeting starts at 10 am. Citizen groups are expected to do their presentations in the 11 to 12 hour. Then we'll all have a debriefing lunch at the Subway's down the street hosted by State Representative Lon Burnam. Y'all come.

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Logan airportFor the second time in as many weeks, a new study shows dramatic air pollution problems surrounding one of America's major airports. Last week, it was the fact that Particulate Matter was four to five  times higher surrounding LAX, adding up to more annual pollution than more than half of the Los Angeles freeway system.

This time, it's Logan in Boston, where an epic, 14-year long effort by the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services shows that children living adjacent to the airport suffer respiratory problems at levels as much as four times higher than those who live further from from the runways. Adults living nearby are twice as likely to experience chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than their peers living in more distant Boston neighborhoods.

According to the study's authors, the findings  are “statistically significant”  and take into account pollution from vehicle traffic and socioeconomic factors such as smoking rates and poverty. It's the first research to try to explore specific health effects surrounding an American airport, relying on interviews with more than 6,000 adults, who also provided health information for more than 2,200 children in 17 communities within a 5-mile radius of the airport.and combined them with advanced air modeling data to estimate exposure to airport-related emissions.

In response, Airport officials and city leaders are working on plans to use more hybrid and natural gas-powered vehicles in and around the airport, including maintenance vehicles and rental cars, as well as requiring planes to use only one engine while taxiing.

DFW Airport long ago required electrification of all ground vehicles because of North Texas' chronic smog problems.

Boston's study was prompted by complaints from residents about pollution and health concerns. The 17 communities within the study area were Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Hull, Lynn, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Nahant, Quincy, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, and Winthrop.

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Body-parts-on-saleHow do you monetize a human life? How about when that life is impaired with an illness? What's it worth to you not having to rush your child to the emergency room when they're turning blue during an asthma attack? What about to prevent a heart attack?

These days we live in a cost-benefit world that demands this kind of accounting for things that should be accepted at face value. Want to talk about the advantages of cleaner air? You have to be able to put a price tag on it. And, with a small slight of hand, that's what the Obama administration did when it touted all the economic reasons why its new carbon capture rule for existing power plants was a plus for the country.

Carbon pollution itself doesn't directly cause the kind of death and suffering among humans that the Clean Air Act was written to address. Oh sure, it might doom countless species, raise sea levels, and cause global catastrophe, but there's not a way to tie it directly to more mundane respiratory diseases or early mortality that we (well, everyone but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) associate with "air pollution."

Instead of pricing catastrophic planetary effects, no matter how self-evident their true costs might be, the EPA instead sought out to tag the out of pocket expenses saved by Americans in cutting pollution associated with carbon, like Particulate Matter and smog. Most of the $55 to $93 billion in economic gains cited by the EPA last week came from these co-benefits, rather than from added spending and jobs in renewable energy or preventing massive crop failures. Otherwise, the new rules might not have been "worth it" from a regulatory point of view. The administration projects the new rules will cause the loss of between 79,900 and 80,400 full-time equivalent jobs in power generation versus 111,800 full-time equivalent jobs in renewable or energy efficiency work, basically a wash.

Want to know the price of an asthma attack? $58. Multiply that by 140,000 to 150,000 across the country and you have the approximately $9 million saved over the next 15 years by reducing soot and smog – a side effect of reducing carbon pollution under the rules.

Non-fatal heart attacks cost an average of $98,000 in health care costs and lost earning power among under-25-year-olds versus an average of  $200,000 among 55- to 64-year-olds, because this later demographic is supposedly reaching its peak earning power. Preventing a six-day bronchitis episode is valued at $430.

By far the largest single health impact from the carbon rules seems to come from the forecasted reduction in deaths associated with PM pollution, quickly becoming the most insidious and widespread air pollution threat in the world, and smog. EPA economists estimated savings of between $27.3 billion and $66.7 billion from lower levels of PM 2.5 (fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size) and Nitrogen Oxide by preventing  2,700 and 6,600 early deaths.

Most of these numbers come from anticipated cleaner or closed coal plants. It's not unusual for EPA to do accounting this way for the rules it's proposing, although it's the first time it's used it to justify carbon pollution regs.

Will these kinds of arguments win over the skeptics? Doubtful, but that's not who they're aimed at. Instead the administration is using these numbers as talking points to the media and the public in hopes of creating momentum the skeptics can't reverse or rationalize. After all, it's hard for even Rick Perry to call out your child's asthma attacks as unimportant or inconsequential.

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Jet pollutionResearchers at the Keck School of Medicine and the University of Southern California have just published a report in the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology journal that shows air traffic from Los Angeles International Airport is responsible for more air pollution than half of all the city's notoriously congested freeways with a plume extending at least 10 miles downwind.

LAX is the world's sixth largest airport, with 40-60 take-offs an hour. DFW averages 46 according to the airport's own website.

USC Scientists spent a month driving around the LA airport taking air samples for Particulate Mater pollution and found that downwind communities had twice the routine background level of PM  in the city. Nine miles out, they found PM levels five times higher than background. Two miles from LAX, PM levels were almost 10 times higher. For comparison's sake, that's equivalent to 174 to 491 miles of freeway traffic. The entire area of Los Angeles County has a total of about 930 miles of freeways. Based on their calculations, scientists concluded that within the area they found to have elevated pollution from the airport, automobiles contributed less than 5 percent of the PN levels. “Therefore, the LAX should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles,” concluded the ACS piece

Why is that a public health concern?

"Ultrafine particles, which form from condensation of hot exhaust vapors, are of particular concern because they deposit deeply into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream. The oxidative stress and resulting inflammation appear to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries) and can make other health conditions worse, especially for people with existing cardiac or lung conditions including asthma."

As far as we know there's been no study of PM pollution from DFW Airport – no federal highways dollars at stake – but this one from California should prompt one.

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K-streetIn 2010, there was a very large and coordinated push by the nation's largest environmental groups and President Obama to get climate change  legislation through Congress. Even with a "Democratically-controlled Congress" it failed.

Four years later, the president has ditched Congress and is resorting to his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to initiate a cap and trade system for CO2 that reportedly will demand a 30% drop in emissions from 2005 levels from the country's existing power plants. There are lots of potential land mines in this approach – if it can survive the gauntlet of legal challenges form industry. And if it does?

"It's going to be like eating spaghetti with a spoon. It can be done, but it's going to be messy and slow," said Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

As for Big Green, it's discovered that DC lobbyists and think tank policy analysts do not a movement make. Prompted by their own failure, a soul-searching New Yorker article in 2013 questioning the wisdom of a corporate-like top down approach, as well as new groups that were filling the vacuum of leadership – like the more radical and highly decentralized Keystone campaigns, a change in perspective begin to occur.

“The national environmental groups said, ‘We need to do more in-your-face activism,’ ” said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. “You can’t just lobby members of Congress with a poll that says people support you.”

As a result the big groups have re-tooled to catch-up. They're now sponsoring more direct actions, including divestment campaigns at universities, and public protests, as well as spending big bucks in targeted state elections. They're decamping from the Capitol and spreading out their resources. In doing so, they're building new organizing models for themselves, models that take cue from smaller, more dynamic, more effective grassroots groups. It's a change for the better.

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Gina Mc Carthy MugshotDALLAS, TX – The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) missed a key deadline in 2013 to classify smog air pollution in Dallas-Fort Worth as ‘severe,’ prompting the Sierra Club to file suit against the agency yesterday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for failing to properly act to protect the health of the people of North Texas.

The levels of smog in Dallas-Fort Worth are among the highest in the country, and only smoggy California, Houston and Baltimore have levels higher than North Texas. Ozone is the main ingredient in the smog in Dallas-Fort Worth. It triggers asthma attacks in children and is responsible for the red and orange bad air alert days the region sees every year.

“While we recognize that the Environmental Protection Agency has many priorities, nothing is more important than protecting our children from the dangers of smog and the asthma attacks that it can trigger,” said Dr. Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The Clean Air Act has mechanisms in place to reduce pollution for areas with long-standing smog problems like Dallas-Fort Worth, but those mechanisms don’t get triggered unless EPA acts.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had a federal deadline to meet the public health standard by 2009, and when the state’s clean air plan failed to reduce pollution levels to meet the protective standards of the Clean Air Act, regulators received an extension to meet the standard by the end of the 2012.

State regulators again failed to develop a plan that would lower smog levels to protect people living in the region. After both failures, the law required EPA to classify Dallas-Fort Worth as having a “severe” ozone problem and publish the notice in the Federal Register in 2013. This action would have required polluters to take additional steps to clean our air. Unfortunately, U.S. EPA missed the deadline, prompting the Sierra Club to file suit late Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

"The Clean Air Act requires polluters to take extra steps in places like Dallas-Fort Worth that have been chronic violators of smog standards," said Jim Schermbeck with Downwinders at Risk, a clean air group based in Dallas-Fort Worth. "But asking Rick Perry to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2014 is like asking Wall Street tycoons to care about low-income families. That's why six million residents need the EPA to do its job and guarantee North Texas safe and legal air."

Because the EPA missed the 2013 deadline to properly classify the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a “severe” ozone smog area, industries are being allowed pollute more than they would otherwise, delaying the protections children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses in the region need.

"Today's action is the first step in requiring the EPA to finally solve the ozone problem in D-FW. Too many Texas children end up in the emergency room or miss school because of asthma and other breathing difficulties. We have to hold EPA to its legal requirements to give these families a chance to breathe easier," said Nia Martin-Robinson, Beyond Coal organizer with the Sierra Club in Texas.

Coal-fired power plants across Texas, cement plants in Midlothian and fracking in the Barnett Shale are significant contributors to smog-forming pollution to the region. State regulators have failed to require the most up to date pollution controls on these sources, contributing to the repeated failure of state clean air plans.

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Heart AttackOver the last decade we've seen plenty of studies linking air pollution, and specifically Particulate Matter, or soot pollution, to heart disease and attacks. Now Dr. François Reeves,a Canandian cardiologist has a new book "Planet Heart: How an Unhealthy Environment Leads to Heart Disease," that puts those studies in context.

“You can sum it up like this: more pollution, more major adverse cardiac events. Pollution of the city is as toxic as cigarette smoke. It has different stuff in it, but the difference is that with pollution, you get it all through your life, from your birth to your death. If you live in a polluted milieu, as soon as you’re a baby you’ll take it in through every breath.”

Reeves' interest as a cardiologist in air pollution issues was triggered by a 2008 World Health Organization report that tracked mortality rates for cardiovascular disease in European countries. In nations with relatively clean air like Norway or even France, the levels were approximately 25 to 70 per 100,000 men. In Russia and the Ukraine it was 600-750 per 100,000. “I was blown away by those numbers,” Reeves says. “We know the classical and well-demonstrated risk factors for heart disease, like smoking and obesity and inactivity. But that’s when I realized the environment has a huge impact."

Just like lead, and benzene, and dioxin, and so many other kinds of pollution, there appears to be no "safe level" of exposure to PM pollution. Any amount is capable of doing some harm, and the more you're exposed, the more harm is likely to happen. That's why fence-line communities are particularly vulnerable to higher rates of illness. In DFW, where PM levels are considered under control, there are still lots of hot spots for the pollutant. If you live downwind of the Midlothian cement plants, you're inhaling a lot of soot. the closer you live – Cedar Hill, South Grand Prairie, South Arlington, Mansfield – the more soot you're inhaling.

In his new book Reeves gives a list of heart-healthy things an individual can do to reduce their risk of heart disease, including increased bike riding, more public transit, or walking and weaning yourself off of internal combustion engines with electric cars and hybrids. “Look at everything you’re doing to minimize your footprint and do whatever you can to have an impact on global footprint,” Reeves says,

But he recognizes the limits of this kind of advice if a person is living in a smoggy city or region and offers overarching policy advice for officials. Cities and governments must continue their efforts to be green, if only out of their own self-interest.

If those governments need any convincing, Brauer points to a financial argument: fewer health problems mean less strain on the public system. “If you improve air quality, everybody benefits,” he says. “It’s really, really cost-effective.

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LOST BUCKETIt's 2014. Distant parts of the globe are connected within micro seconds. Some of us are driving electric cars. Our phones are more powerful than all the computers it ever took to put a human being on the Moon, combined.

And we use five gallon buckets from Academy to collect and store industrial hazardous waste.

Or at least the Exide contractors that are in charge of "cleaning-up" Frisco's Stewart Creek do. And they not only use them, they lose them.

On May 8th, workers for Apex-Titan Inc. were collecting battery casing chips and bits of lead slag from fields near the Creek a the intersection of Legacy and Stonebrook and putting them into the bucket. For decades before it closed in 2012, the Exide lead smelter dumped waste into and around the Creek, leaving a still-contaminated trail from the plant site all the way to Lake Lewisiville, approximately five miles away.

After collecting a full load of Exide waste, the contractors placed the bucket in the back of a pick-up truck and drove off – apparently without securing the tailgate first. Despite two staff from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on the scene to "document field activities"  and the City of Frisco's own contractor present – nine people in all – no one noticed when or how the bucket fell off the truck on he way back to the plant site.

When they discovered the loss, the workers retraced their route. They searched the parking lot of a city park located across the street from a school – one of two in the immediate vicinity. No bucket. More than two weeks later the bucket of hazardous waste is still missing. But we're only now finding out about it.

This would be funny if it weren't for the possibility of this bucket ending up with kids or in a garden or as a water container.  As a memo from the City of Frisco puts it:

 "We believe it is a reasonable assumption that the bucket was found in the street by a person who picked it up for their own use; without realizing the contents might be hazardous waste."

With that in mind, did the City of Frisco inform the Frisco School District? Did any warnings get issued to students and parents at the two near-by schools? Not as far as we know. Did the City put out an All Points Bulletin for the bucket? No it did not. Embarrassment often keeps officials from doing the right thing about public health. So there's hazardous lead waste out there in a Frisco neighborhood that could be diminishing kids' IQs even as you're reading this, even as officials are too embarrassed to ring the alarm.

Now maybe you're thinking this whole Frisco lead cleanup fiasco now has a new mascot. And you' be right. This bucket pretty much sums up the FUBAR'd state of things. A bankrupt company entrusted to clean-up its own mess. A city council seemingly intent on making sure it ends up with a Superfund Site in the middle of the "second-fastest growing city in America." A state and federal government asleep at the wheel. It's all nicely summed up by that lost five gallon Academy bucket. That's the image. Here's the caption, however, thanks to Jack Fink at Channel 11:

"Mack Borchardt of the city of Frisco said he’s surprised, since they were assured going into this process by Exide that there wouldn’t be any problems with the system in place. “Obviously, that didn’t turn out to be the case,” said Borchardt."

 

City officials were shocked! Shocked they tell you, that Exide screwed up.

 

Frisco City officials handed the job over to Exide and expected the same company that ran an outlaw smelter operation to provide an excellent clean-up of their own mess. They had faith! The City is handing over the toxicology and assessment to the state and EPA. They have faith! They're handing the decision about what to do with the waste in Frisco to their lawyers, who are recommending the city host a toxic waste landfill by Stewart Creek in front of the new Grand Park. They have faith! What they don't have is any faith in their own citizenry. After 2 years there's still no transparent, civic dialog on the fate of the thousands of tons of lead waste that remains in the heart of the central business district.

 

There's no question that given a choice, most Frisco residents would vote to haul the waste completely out of town to a hazardous waste disposal site and develop the property as any other prime piece of real estate. And yet the Frisco City Council is still on course to approve a permanent toxic landfill of its own…… that would be monitored by the same state agency that didn't see that five gallon bucket falling out of the contractor's truck.

What's needed now more than anything else is homegrown vision and leadership. The city needs to take its fate into its own hands instead of entrusting others to look out for its self-interests. There's millions of dollars in state-collected battery fees that are supposed to be going to communities impacted by lead smelting. Frisco certainly qualifies. Instead of arguing with its own residents over a permanent landfill, the Council should be proposing legislation for the next session in Austin to finance a full clean-up.

This incident is a five-gallon splash in the face. Following instead of leading can only result in many future "problems with the system."

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TEXAS image from O&G petitionDownwinders at Risk and over 60 other local, state and national groups filed a petition Tuesday urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by setting pollution limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

Led by the public interest law organization Earthjustice, the nationwide alliance also includes The Clean Air Council, Clean Air Taskforce, Environmental Defense Fund, Global Community Monitor, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians. 

Making the case to require oil and gas companies to limit toxic air pollution from oil and gas wells in urban, suburban and other populated areas as the Clean Air Act expressly provides, the petition urges the EPA to act quickly to protect public health.

In recent years, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased drastically. As of 2011, oil and gas wells in the U.S. numbered more than 1.04 million. Current estimates project that as many as 45,000 new wells could be drilled each year through 2035. 

Available data suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites—such as benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene—are currently going freely into the air. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer.

“More than 150 million Americans now live near oil and gas wells or above shale areas where companies are looking to drill or engage in hydraulic fracturing, and EPA needs to set standards that restrict the hazardous air pollutants they put into the air,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse, who filed the petition on behalf of the groups.

A significant number of those millions are Texans, who are hosting at least four large gas and oil plays in the state, including the Barnett Shale that overlaps large sections of the DFW metropolitan area.

"Almost a decade of un-and-under-regulated fracking has transformed North Texas into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry, with conservative estimates of over 1,000 tons of hazardous air pollution being released annually from industry sources. Breathing this toxic air pollution has left a well-documented trail of illness and disease throughout the Barnett Shale. EPA needs to do its job and protect frontline victims of fracking by reducing the toxic fallout from the practice," said Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck.

Besides the DFW Metropolitan area, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Waxo, Lubbock, Amarillo, Laredo, College Station-Bryan, Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Longview, Tyler, Abilene, Wichita Falls, Odessa, Midland, Sherman-Denison, Victoria, San Angelo, and Texarkana would also be protected by the new regulations.

Facilities presently not regulated for their toxic air pollution that would be covered under the petition include new and existing oil and gas wells, existing hydraulically fractured gas wells (unless modified), new hydraulically fractured gas wells that are exempted, most equipment associated with wells, including: many storage vessels, pneumatic controllers, compressors, and equipment leaks.

The petition filed today, as well as a list of the groups filing, can be found at: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/2014-petition-for-federal-limits-on-toxic-air-pollution-from-oil-gas-wells

To see the population centers that would receive protection under new EPA rules, look at Table 5 of the petition, or the maps listed below.

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