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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ass-kicking womanThose were not your father's treehuggers that showed up in Arlington last night.

Over 100 people, including 36 speakers over three hours, provided perhaps the angriest, and certainly the most profanity-laced evening of testimony ever heard in the two-decade history of state public hearings on DFW's dirty air. It's as if frustration over the last 20 years of State failures had finally found a cathartic, public release.

For the most part, speakers from communities across North Texas ignored the State and spoke directly to representatives of EPA, pleading for the Agency to take air quality planning out of the hands of a hostile Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

But when many speakers did address the State's efforts, they didn't parse any words – at least any words that can be printed in a family newspaper, or this blog. For the first time anyone can recall, f-bombs were hurled at TCEQ over its failure to take North Texas bad air seriously. Dallasite Gary Stuard set the tone for the event early on by saying it was time for residents "to quit being so polite" about their systematic poisoning. His message was taken to heart by many of the speakers that followed.

Old, young, male, female, Black, White, Latino, mainstream group, neighborhood group, Elected officials, students, business owners, doctors, asthma suffers, parents of asthma suffers, people concerned about climate change, about fracking, about coal plant pollution, about cement kilns – it didn't matter. Not a single speaker spoke in favor of the State's plan of doing nothing about rising smog levels.

Seizing on the day's headlines, Lance Irwin from Mansfield was the first, but not last person to compare the official neglect over lead in Flint, Michigan's water supply to pollution in DFW's air supply. Arlington residents spoke – and in one instance, sung – movingly about fracking contamination making their neighborhoods unlivable. More than one testimony was dedicated to a friend or relative who'd died from a lung disease. Equal parts despair and anger.

By the time the final speakers finished, it felt more like a church revival. The Church of the Unredeemed State Agency. When was the last time you heard people say they had "fun" at a pro forma public hearing?

To be sure, more traditional voices and statements were in full force. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a staff member urging the State to redo its plan. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel sent her aide to talk about the need to control coal plant pollution in the plan. Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson spoke for the need to grab this opportunity to make progress. Dr. Robert Haley of the Dallas County Medical Society and UT-SW did an excellent job of summarizing his recent study on the public health and economic costs of DFW smog and speaking to the Texas Medical Society resolution against the state plan. Rita Vinson, newly elected President of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations read a unanimous resolution passed by her group only the day before, calling for EPA to reject the plan. Lots of speakers recounted the long and winding road leading up to the current fact that DFW now has worse smog than Houston.

But it was the tossing aside of business meeting protocol and the pretense that the State had any interest in being there that made this a milestone event. Veterans of past hearings talked about how tired they were of repeating themselves. Newcomers couldn't understand how a State government that doesn't think smog is bad for you can write an effective anti-smog plan. Dentonites were rightfully resentful of seeing a plan that does nothing about smog from oil and gas sources being promoted by the same government that stole its municipal rights to regulate it themselves. Coarseness in language reflected rawness of feelings over yet another Texas attempt to undermine the EPA.

Although the weather was nasty, the major obstacle organizers faced yesterday was understandable skepticism about what good it would do to go to another useless TCEQ hearing. The answer was the need to provide EPA with political support to prepare for a federal takeover. That happened. Big Time. For three solid hours.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the worst public ass-kicking the TCEQ has ever received in DFW.

Hearing Presser

Now what?

EPA sent three staff members, including those in charge of reviewing and commenting on the State plan. They took notes. We'll get to see what the Agency thinks about this "new" plan within the next three weeks after the comment period closes and its written review becomes part of the public record.

After that, it should be a relatively short time before EPA decides to officially reject the part of the plan dealing with new controls in the 10-County "non-attainment area" – the part the State didn't do even after EPA asked TCEQ to, and explicitly told the Commission it would reject the plan unless it did. 

It will take EPA longer, perhaps until the end of the year, to make a decision about the rest of the plan –  the part that relies on computer modeling and estimates of future pollution. It's more technically oriented and there's more nuance than the up or down legal opinion with the control section.

And for citizens?

Send an email to EPA urging them to reject the State's awful air plan for DFW

Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition urging EPA to reject the State's plan

Forward our two-and-a-half minute video to people you know are concerned about air quality – or should be.

Submit written comments on this plan to the TCEQ:

Please reference: "Dallas-Fort Worth Attainment Demonstration for the 2008 Eight-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Area, Project Number 2015-014-SIP-NR"

 via the interwebs:  

http://www1.tceq.texas.gov/rules/ecomments

or fax

 (512) 239-6188

Or by snail mail:

Kathy Singleton,
MC 206,
Air Quality Division, TCEQ
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

And get ready to campaign for resolutions supporting an EPA clean air plan for DFW from your local city council, county government, hospital districts, and school boards. We're all about building support for a federal takeover of our air quality planning between now and the end of the year when EPA is expected to make its final decision. We're coming to a governmental entity near you!

Lots is at stake. We can win the largest improvement in DFW air quality in a decade or wait another five years to try. Thursday night's showing makes clear many of us aren't willing to wait.

Onward Thru the Smog.

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Sad Male Doctor Showing Thumbs DownPublic Hearing
6:30 pm Thursday  
January 21st

616 Six Flags Drive Arlington  (near I-30 and Hwy 360 – map)


– First come, first serve to speak (no reserved time)

– 3-5 minutes speaking time 

– Talking Points here if you need them

NEW! Sierra Club Event at 6 pm out front


 

How bad is the new State of Texas "clean air" plan for DFW?

So bad the Texas Medical Association passed a resolution to reject it.

That's the Texas. Medical. Association. 

As far as we know, this is the first time the state's premier medical association has expressed a formal opinion about any state air plan.

They oppose the State's plan because it contains no new controls on any sources of pollution contributing to North Texas' chronic smog problem. Not a one. At a time when DFW smog levels are going up.

They oppose the State's plan because it allows dirty air in North Texas to keep killing people and making them sick, costi us $650 million every year. Human and financial costs which are completely preventable.

Join the TMA in taking a public stand.

Residents of Texas who want clean air have to speak-up to counter our State officials who ridicule the idea.

Come to the hearing on Thursday evening and tell the State why you don't trust them with your health. Urge the EPA to reject Austin's plan and write its own.   


 

What the Docs Say:

Some of the harshest critics of the State's proposed do-nothing DFW air plan aren't members of any environmental group. They're doctors.

At its 2015 convention in November, the Texas Medical Association endorsed a resolution urging the Association to:


"…reject the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ's) 2015 State Implementation Plan (SIP) report and advocate for development of a new SIP report that conforms to the scientific, peer reviewed modeling methods developed by UT Southwestern and University of North Texas experts. TMA advocates for implementing reasonably available control measures at the state level capable of meeting national ozone standards, based on the UTSW and UNT validated models."
 

The resolution was the work of a delegation from the Dallas County Medical Society, headed up by Dr. Robert Haley, Epidemiologist at UT-Southwestern.

It was Haley who worked on a landmark study on local impacts of ozone that was released in tandem with Downwinder's own UNT computer air modeling study last fall. Those are the UTSW and UNT studies referenced in the TMA resolution.


 

Dr. Haley took the EPA's own software for estimating the health and economic costs of bad air, and applied it to DFW.  What did he find?

Reducing smog by just 5 parts per billion in North Texas would:

1. Prevent 200 admissions to hospitals for respiratory illness every year

2. Prevent 400 ER visits to hospitals for respiratory illness every year

3. Prevent 140,000 lost school days every year

4. Prevent 100 premature deaths every year

5. Save $650 million a year in lost productivity  
 
As it so happens, the most cost-effective path to lowering ozone levels across the region has been mapped out by the UNT study, which cloned the State's own computer model for DFW and ran the "what ifs" Austin isn't interested in asking anymore.  

Applying off-the-shelf technology to East Texas coal plants, Midlothian cement kilns, and oil and gas facilities was shown by the UNT study to be the easiest ways to get smog levels down enough to comply with the current federal ozone standard. That's the "reasonably available control" part of the TMA resolution.

The State knows all this but refuses to include these controls in any DFW air plan – for the second time in 5 years.  
 
Dr. Jim Walton, President of the Dallas County Medical Society took on that official stubbornness in a full-page editorial running in the group's newsletter:

"…once again TCEQ staff has announced that it sees no need to require new control measures on any major pollution sources, even while the Commission's own computer air modeling shows that DFW will remain above the 75 ppb standard….DFW is a chronic Clean Air Act violator, and much of it is avoidable. We can and should lead in this very practical and real issue that continues to threaten the health of our community."

And doctors are leading on this issue.

Despite the Dallas County Medical Society hosting its annual dinner on Thursday evening, Dr. Haley has said he'll join us in Arlington for the air plan hearing because of its importance. Come and thank him in person by adding your voice in urging EPA to take over the region's air plan.

Fight Back.
Don't Let Gregg Abbott Speak For You on This Important Issue.

Thursday, January 21st
6:30 pm
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington  
First Floor Meeting Room


 

THE CASE FOR EPA TAKEOVER OF DFW AIR PLAN

IN LESS THAN 3 MINUTES

Sidebar graphic link to Video

Send EPA Administrators an email urging them to reject the State's do-nothing air plan for DFW and instead write one of its own.

Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition to EPA urging the Agency to reject the State's plan. 

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Fracking_Coha-306x329-e1364234070834

Public Hearing on DFW Air       

Thursday, January 21st

6:30

616 Six Flags Road in Arlington

(Map)


 

If you're fighting fracking in your North Texas community, you have few options these days. The State of Texas is not only very not interested in hearing about fracking problems, it just passed a law that makes it illegal for your city to be too interested in hearing from you about those problems as well. 

Enter another DFW anti-smog plan. In the past, these plans have been written by Austin and have tired their best to ignore the large volumes of smog-forming pollution from oil and gas sources. This new plan is no different. Left up to the State, there would be no new cuts in pollution from any major industrial source, including the gas industry.

But EPA may not leave it up to the state this time. There are already indications the EPA will reject the State's air plan for DFW as being inadequate and draft one of its own. That would be good news for local anti-fracking activists. Why? Because it could mean cutting lots and lots of different kinds Barnett Shale pollution throughout the region and help shift the costs of its harmful impacts to industry. 

That's why if you're concerned about fracking, you owe to yourself to show-up at this Thursday's public hearing and tell the EPA you want them to reject the state's do-nothing air plan and instead implement a "Federal Implementation Plan" to clean up DFW's chronically smoggy air. 


 

The Case For Cutting Oil and Gas Pollution in a DFW Anti-Smog Plan

1. The Oil and Gas Industry is a Large Source of Smog Pollution in North Texas 

Look at the chart below for where and in what volumes the State believes smog-forming pollution will be coming from in 2017. The numbers are directly from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's DFW air plan. It's in TONS PER DAY.

DFW SIP EI 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oil and Gas pollution is the fourth largest category of smog pollution in North Texas. It's the fourth largest category for Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution – the kind the State believes is most responsible for DFW smog. It's also the fourth largest source for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), another kind of smog pollution that many of us believe plays a bigger role than the State thinks.

And these are the State's own numbers so you can be sure they're underestimates. 

For example, a recent review of studies estimated that the Barnett Shale gas production was leaking up to twice as much climate-damaging methane as the EPA predicts. Methane doesn't escape by itself. If it's leaking, so are smog-forming VOCs that come up with the Methane. 

Bottom Line: a huge new category of smog pollution has been created in DFW in just the last 8 years.

 

2. Oil and Gas Air Pollution is making DFW Smog Worse

Even the State admits that pollution from Barnett Shale industry sources contributes to DFW smog, the only disagreement is by how much. 

DV 98-2015

Take a look at another chart – one that tracks the "average regional" smog level over the decades. Notice the downward trend that stops around 2009, where it continues to hover around 85 ppb? Can you think of anything that began happening in DFW in a big way around 2008-9 that would have stopped that downward trend? 

Part of the problem is location. Historically, DFW's worst-performing air monitors, the places where the air quality always seems to be worse at the end of every "ozone action day" are located in the Northwest part of the Metromess – Keller, Grapevine, Denton, and Eagle Mountain Lake. Predominant winds are from the southeast to the northwest in summer time, pushing all of DFW's pollution toward Denton and Wise Counties. 

Imagine what happens when you begin to envelope those same northwest areas into the country's largest urban gas field. In 2011, the State estimated that there was more VOC pollution coming from O&G sources in the region than from all the cars and trucks on the road in North Texas at the time. 

This impact has not escaped EPA's notice. In official comments filed last February the Agency wrote that those Northwest monitors have not seen their ozone numbers come down as much as other parts of the region and suggest the sea of O&G pollution surrounding them may be the reason. 

Thanks to the landmark UNT study that cloned the State's own computer air model for the DFW plan, we know exactly what kind of influence O&G pollution has on those monitors – or at least what the impacts are using the State's underestimated numbers.

If you took away all the estimated 2017 pollution from the Barnett Shale in DFW, you'd see drops in ozone of…

5.4 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake air monitor site

5.3  ppb in Keller 

4.9 in NW Ft. Worth 

3.6 ppb in Denton 

These reductions in ozone would be enough to bring all of these DFW air monitor sites into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard, and allow all the sites except Denton to reach the new 70 ppb federal ozone standard more quickly than the deadline of 2025.

Conversely – you can see these numbers as the added smoggy burden the industry is imposing on DFW now. According to the State itself, O&G pollution are raising ozone levels as much as 3 to 5 ppb across large parts of the region. 

 

3. Large Cuts in O&G Pollution = Less Smog in DFW

If oil and gas pollution is a large source of smog pollution, it makes sense that cutting that pollution would lead to less smog. Because of the UNT report, we know how much regional smog would decrease if we took some steps to stop down O&G pollution. 

For example, just converting all 647 large gas compressors (point sources) in North Texas from diesel or gas to electricity – something the industry says it can do in areas with air pollution problems – would take over 16 tons of NOx pollution out of the air each and every day and lead to a drop of over 3 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake site and between 1 and over 2 ppb at 10 other air monitor sites. That may not sound like much, but it's enough to send most of them into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard. And that's not even accounting for the decrease in Particulate Matter pollution that would accompany such a transition. Because compressors are the industry's largest source of Nitrogen Oxides, they should be a big target for a new EPA air plan for DFW. 

Compressors 100% ElecVOC pollution could also decrease under an EPA plan. Under the EPA's proposed new methane rules, there are a series of guidelines for controlling the pollutant that would also end-up cutting other smog-forming and toxic VOC pollution as a side-benefit. We're talking Benzene and all the other nasties the human eye can't see coming out of a storage tank or dehydrator. 

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." Areas like DFW – for the past two decades.

Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog, could be the beneficiaries of new EPA-written “Control Technique Guidelines.”

According to EPA, these CTGs “provide an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources. States would have to address these sources as part of state plans for meeting EPA’s ozone health standards.”

EPA gives states two years to include these controls in new air plans. Texas could include them now, in its current air plan, but it doesn't want to. 

But if the EPA is writing our air plan instead, then these new VOC controls get put into the mix. Even a 50% cut in VOC emissions from the gas industry means 25 tons a day less air pollution from facilities over a wide area. That's worth fighting for. 


If EPA rejects the state plan, it would take up to two years to implement a federal alternative. Even so, is there any other opportunity to cut as much oil and gas pollution in that amount of time? From new fedreal rules? Through local opposition? This is a chance to regionalize the fracking fight and reap large benefits.

Still steamed over HB40? Get mad AND get even.

Help us take the DFW air plan out of the State's hands, and give it to the EPA, where we can advance the cause in a way the state never dreamed of. 

Thursday, January 21st

6:30

616 Six Flags Road in Arlington


 

THE CASE FOR EPA TAKEOVER OF DFW AIR PLAN

IN LESS THAN 3 MINUTES

Sidebar graphic link to Video

Send EPA Administrators an email urging them to reject the State's do-nothing air plan for DFW and instead write one of its own.

Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition to EPA urging the Agency to reject the State's plan. 

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Paris-Protests

Public Hearing
6:30 pm Thursday  
January 21st
616 Six Flags Drive Arlington 



When polluters cut smog pollution, they cut a lot of other kinds of pollution as well, including climate-damaging gases like CO2 and methane.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of this kind of pollution could be eliminated in the next air plan for Dallas-Ft. Worth as a result of requiring modern controls on coal plants, cement kilns, and oil and gas sources.

Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant in East Texas is the largest global warming polluter in the country. It released 16.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, the equivalent of 3.5 million cars.

Recent studies show facilities in the Barnett Shale Gas Play are leaking 50% to 90% more methane than the  government estimates.

We need to cut pollution here, now.

That's why if you care about climate change, you'll want to show-up next Thursday night and speak in favor of the EPA rejecting a State of Texas plan that doesn't require any new cuts in pollution from any source.

Join your earth-hugging peers in calling for a new air plan written by EPA that includes cuts in local smog pollution that can also benefit the entire planet. In as little as two years, you could make a big difference to a big problem.

Think Globally. Act Locally.
Not just a bumper sticker.

Additional Talking Points here if you need them.


SPECIFICS?

When the Ash Grove cement plant in Midlothian modernized its operations to conform with new anti-smog rules and other regulations, it cut approximately 300,000 tons of CO2 pollution – a year. That's just one cement plant.  
 
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and a highly potent greenhouse gas, with over 80 times the 20-year warming power of carbon dioxide.

EPA estimates 750,000 to one million tons of methane is released by equipment leaks every year from facilities in the Barnett Shale, but a recent peer-reviewed study estimated methane emissions in the Barnett Shale may be twice as high as EPA thinks.

There are pending EPA rules to limit methane pollution at natural gas sites that could be rolled into this DFW air plan. Even a 50% cut in leaks in North Texas would mean an annual drop of 400-500,000 tons of climate changing pollution.  
 
A good anti-smog plan from EPA will also put more pressure on the obsolete East Texas coal plants to close.These coal plants are the biggest reasons Texas status is the #1 Greenhouse Gas polluter in the U.S.
 
The fastest way to cut lots of greenhouse gases in the Belly of the Beast is with a good EPA anti-smog plan for DFW.

Come speak in support of an air plan for our region that would help reduce  asthma attacks here, and the melting of glaciers in Greenland.

Thursday, January 21st
6:30 pm
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington  
First Floor Meeting Room


Sidebar graphic link to Video

 – Send EPA Administrators an email asking them to reject the State's do nothing DFW air plan and instead wrie one of their own.

– Sign the CHANGE.ORG Petition urging EPA to reject the State's air plan for DFW

 

 

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Cage MatchJOIN OUR TAG TEAM EFFORT TO TAKE DOWN THE STATE OF TEXAS
BUT WATCH OUT – THEY PLAY DIRTY

NEXT THURSDAY EVENING
JANUARY 21st
6:30 PM

616 Six Flags Road
First Floor HQ of the
North Central Texas Council of Governments

There's an important bureaucratic cage match between EPA and the State over how clean your air should be.

The state says just by hitching a ride on already-in-progress federal gasoline mix for cars and trucks, DFW ozone, or smog, will drop to levels "close enough" to the current federal smog standard of 75 parts per billion (approximately 78 ppb) . No new cuts in pollution required.

The EPA says not so fast – "close enough" may not be good enough this time around and you're not following the Clean Air Act in laying back and requiring no new cuts in pollution.

EPA has told Austin a failure to follow Clean Air Act rules will force it to take responsibility for the plan away from the State.

Is this something you want? If so, you should show up and  next Thursday evening to give the EPA the political support it needs to pull the rug out from under the State.


 

WHAT HAS THE EPA ALREADY SAID ABOUT THE STATE'S PLAN?
 
Along with comments from DFW residents, environmental groups, doctors, industry and elected officials, EPA itself will weigh-in with written comments on the TCEQ plan by the deadline of January 29th.
 
But we don't have to wait that long to find out what EPA really thinks about what the State is proposing. Last year, EPA provided 11 pages of comments on exactly the same plan.  

1) This plan won't work without more cuts in pollution

What EPA Said:
"Based on the monitoring data and lack of additional large reductions in NOx within areas of Texas that impact DFW, it is difficult to see how the area would reach attainment in 2018 based solely on federal measures reductions from mobile and non-road….The recent court decision that indicates the attainment year will likely be 2017 for moderate classification areas such as DFW, makes it less clear that the area will attain the standard by 2017 without additional reductions."
 
What EPA Meant:
It wasn't looking good when the deadline for reaching the 75 ppb standard was 2018 and the State didn't require any new cuts in air pollution, but now that the deadline is 2017, your do-nothing "close enough" plan is even less likely to work.  


2) Your case for doing nothing isn't very good

What EPA Said:

"While the State has provided a large chapter on Weight of Evidence, the principal evidence is the recent monitor data. The monitor data does not show the large drops in local ozone levels and therefore raises a fundamental question whether the photochemical modeling is working as an accurate tool for assessing attainment in 2018 for DFW." 

What EPA Meant:
Actual measurements of smog in DFW seem to undercut your claim that the air is getting cleaner faster. Maybe your computer model that's driving the entire plan isn't all that great. (And this was before smog levels went UP after the summer of 2015 – something not predicted by the State's model….)


3) Review pollution limits for the Midlothian cement kilns, or we'll reject your plan

What EPA Said:
"Because of significant changes in the type and number of cement kilns in Ellis County,…TCEQ's rules need to be reevaluated to insure these reductions are maintained, and the emission limits reflect a Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) level of control as required by the Clean Air Act…Failure to conduct a thorough RACT analysis for cement kilns which would include appropriate emission limits would prevent us from approving the RACT portion of the attainment plan submittal."

What EPA Meant:  
Update your kiln pollution limits, or this part of the plan is toast. (Texas chose not to perform this update, in essence, giving EPA the bureaucratic finger.)
 
 
4) Oil and Gas pollution seems to be keeping the region's smog levels higher than they should be

What EPA Said:
"Recent NOx trends (Figure 5-10 in TCEQ's Proposal) indicate a fairly flat NOx trend for several NO monitors in the western area of the DFW area (Eagle Mtn. Lake, Denton, and Parker County monitors). These monitors are in areas more impacted by the growth in NOx sources for Oil and Gas Development that seem to be countering the normal reduction in NOx levels seen at other monitors due to fleet turnover reductions (on-road and Nonroad). These higher NOx levels in the modeling domain that seem to be fairly flat with no change since 2009
raise concern that the area is not seeing the NOx reductions needed to bring the ozone levels down at these monitors."
 
What EPA Meant:
Since the historically worst-performing air pollution monitors in DFW are located in exactly the same area as a lot of gas and oil activity, and these monitors haven't been seeing the expected decrease in smog you predict, maybe you ought to think about cutting pollution from those oil and gas sources. Like we said, this plan needs more cuts in pollution.


5) Your own evidence supports cuts in pollution from the East Texas Coal Plants
   
What EPA Said:
"The TCEQ provided an evaluation of emissions from all of the utility electric generators in east and central Texas. However, the discussion in Appendix D on the formation, background levels, and transport of ozone strongly supports the implementation of controls on NOx sources located to the east and southeast of the DFW nonattainment area. How would a reduction in NOx emissions from utility electric generators in just the counties closest to the eastern and southern boundaries of the DFW area impact the DFW area?"

What EPA Meant:
Despite your protests, the State's own analysis shows cuts in pollution from the East Texas Coal Plants have a big impact on DFW smog levels and supports the argument for putting new controls on them. Did you actually run your fancy-dancy computer model to see what would happen if you did that? (No, the State did not. But UNT and Downwinders did.)

WHY WOULD AN EPA PLAN FOR DFW AIR  MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?

No Biggie – maybe new controls on every large industrial polluter in the region…that's all
 
The EPA has already said DFW needs more cuts in air pollution to make any clean air  plan work. It's opened the door to cuts in pollution from  from the Midlothian cement kilns, oil and gas sources, and the East Texas coal plants.
 

If the EPA rejects the State's plan, the clock begins ticking: the State is warned it has to write a new plan and, meanwhile, EPA begins to write its own. If the State doesn't turn in a plan the EPA finds acceptable in 24 months,  the EPA plan is implemented instead.

An EPA plan brings everyone back to the bargaining table who's interested in cleaner air and all potential cuts – kilns, coal plants, and oil and gas –  are carefully considered.

The State has no interest  in any new cuts of pollution from any sources. It thinks it's plan is  already "close enough."

If the EPA is writing the plan, citizens can use the new UNT study to show the Agency which cuts get the largest drops in smog – using the State's own air model.

We can use Dr.Haley's study to show the approximate economic and public health benefits of those cuts.

More change happens if EPA is writing the plan.Enough to finally get DFW safe and legal air? We don't know until we try. The alternative is doing nothing.

Two very different futures for your lungs are being decided right now.
 
Your voice is needed to help the better one win out.

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CHAPPs study result copyA Public Hearing about the Air YOU Breathe

Thursday, January 21st
Public Comment begins at 6:30 pm
616 Six Flags Road, Arlington

(HQ of the North Central Texas Council of Governments)        

What's going on?
 
It's a public hearing on DFW's bad air. The whole region.
 
Our air is so dirty it requires a government plan to clean it up. This hearing is being held to get comments from the public on the new State of Texas plan to do that.
 
But the State says everything will be fine if we don't do anything at all. That's the State's plan. It requires no new pollution controls.
 
For the first time, EPA says that's not good enough and is dropping hints it will take over the job of writing the plan itself.
 
That would be great news because, unlike the State of Texas, the EPA believes more cuts in pollution are needed to get cleaner air in DFW. An EPA air plan might actually do something. 
 


What makes this hearing so important?

Well, it's not the fact the state is hosting it. Nobody expects the State to care about this hearing, except as a legal formality

It's important because the EPA will be there listening. It's never taken a clean air plan away from the state before. it's a big step. It will be controversial. They need to see DFW residents asking for them to do it. They need to feel they have the political support to go through with such a drastic action. 

It's also important because an EPA plan would mean more big cuts in pollution at large industrial sources are on the table like 90% cuts in coal plant pollution, 90% cuts in pollution from the Midlothian cement plants, as well as cuts from oil and gas industry sources. An EPA plan makes all of these options more possible.

It's important if you or anyone you know suffers from asthma or other respiratory illnesses that get worse when the air is dirty. Dr. Robert Haley of UT-Sothwestern Medical School has a new study showing just a small drop in North Texas smog can have huge health benefits and savings.


dallassmog copyWhat Can I Do?

1. Show-up at the hearing on the 21st and tell EPA you want them to write their own clean air plan for DFW – use the talking points below.

2. Spread the word about this hearing. Forward this call to action to other folks. We only have two weeks to organize.

3.  Watch and forward our two and a half minute  "SOS@EPA" video– it makes the case for why we need EPA's help…to a steady disco beat.

4.Sign the Change.Org petition calling for EPA to reject the state air plan and write one of its own

5. Send an email to EPA telling them the same thing. 

______________________________________________

Show Up to Tell EPA to Take DFW's Air Plan Away From the State

Talking Points for the Hearing on the 21st

1. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has been in continual violation of the federal Clean Air Act for ozone, or smog pollution, since 1991.

2. DFW is currently classified as a "non-attainment area," or not complying, with the current federal eight-hour ozone pollution standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb), (a standard now considered to be inadequate and soon to be replaced by a lower 70 ppb standard)

3. According to the USEPA, DFW will be one of only ten non-California metropolitan areas still in violation of the Clean Air Act, and the new federal ozone standard of 70 ppb, in 2025 without additional reductions in pollution.

4. DFW's regional annual  smog pollution average increased from 81 ppb in 2014 to 83 ppb in 2015. Our smog got worse last year.

5. Dallas-Fort Worth now has a higher annual smog level than Houston.

6. According to a Cook Children's Hospital study, Dallas-Forth Worth has childhood asthma rate three times the national average.  1 CHRONI27

7. Computer air modeling by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) predicts its DFW clean air plan will still leave at least four North Texas monitors with annual averages exceeding 75 ppb of ozone pollution at its conclusion – including one at 77.8,  or 3 ppb higher than an old standard we know isn't protective. TCEQ's plan doesn't even reach the goal it's supposed to meet.

8. In official comments, the USEPA has stated that TCEQ's proposed DFW clean air plan will not be effective"without additional reductions" in smog-forming pollution, and warned that the State's refusal to comply with certain Clean Air Act requirements make the plan unacceptable. TCEQ's proposed DFW clean air plan requires no such additional reductions.

9. In 2011, the last TCEQ clean air plan that required no new pollution controls left ozone levels higher than when it began – the first time any clean air plan for DFW had done that.

10. Members of the Engineering Department of the University of North Texas (UNT) have, with TCEQ cooperation, replicated the State's computer air pollution model for the DFW clean air plan, and used it to study how additional controls at major sources of smog pollution could reduce ozone throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth non-attainment area.

Results from the UNT study demonstrate additional controls at selected major sources of pollution would significantly reduce DFW ozone levels, including Selective Catalyst Reduction at Midlothian cement kilns and East Texas coal plants, and electrification of large natural gas compressors in the Barnett Shale.

The UNT study demonstrates a clean air plan for DFW that includes these controls would meet or exceed the current ozone standard of 75 ppb at all North Texas air monitors.

11. A 2015 study by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's Director of Epidemiology, Dr. Robert Haley, estimates a 5 ppb reduction in ozone pollution would result in economic savings of $650 million a year and prevent 100 deaths annually throughout Northeast Texas12. In 2015, the Texas Medical Association officially requested USEPA to reject TCEQ's proposed DFW clean air plan and substitute one which "conforms to the scientific, peer reviewed modeling methods developed by UT Southwestern and University of North Texas experts.… (and) implementing reasonably available control measures at the state level capable of meeting national ozone standards, based on the UTSW and UNT validated models."

12. In 2015, the Texas Medical Association officially requested USEPA to reject TCEQ's proposed DFW clean air plan and substitute one which "conforms to the scientific, peer reviewed modeling methods developed by UT Southwestern and University of North Texas experts.… (and) implementing reasonably available control measures at the state level capable of meeting national ozone standards, based on the UTSW and UNT validated models."

13. Over the last 20 years, and five different plans, the State of Texas has never succeeded in bringing DFW into compliance with the Clean Air Act. It's time to let EPA try – they can't do any worse. 

14. EPA just released a Federal clean air plan for haze pollution in parks after the state refused to provide an adequate one of its own. That's great. It should now write one for the seven million people of the DFW area. We deserve at least as much protection from the state's willful contempt for the Clean Air Act as parkland. 

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2183619BS-meter2As you might have already heard, last week the EPA announced it was rejecting Texas' proposed rapid-response,140-year plan for restoring air quality and visibility in National Parks affected by pollution from the state's largest industrial facilities, primarily coal-fired power plants, aka, "the haze rule."

Instead, the EPA decided to implement its own, slightly more decisive plan for action. Whereas the state concluded it needed no new controls on any coal plants, the EPA is requiring modern Sulfur Dioxide (SOx) scrubbers on 14 different boilers at nine power plant sites across the state it estimates will remove 230,000 tons of the pollutant annually.  That's 60% of the state's total SOX pollution, and 7% of the nation's.

These scrubbers not only capture SOx on behalf of more beautiful vistas in Big Bend, they also do a good job of preventing lots of Particulate Matter pollution from reaching the lungs of people that live in between the coal plants and parks. Although computer modeling was used by EPA to determine the effectiveness of the scrubbers it's requiring, it focused on results inside the parks. Getting results for metro areas like DFW involves a lot of data mining nobody has done, but there's no question that if reductions in air pollution are helping Oklahoma and West Texas parks, they're also helping out the air in North Texas. Just one look at the modeling maps produced by our recent UNT study of DFW ozone shows the immense impacts of these plants on DFW air quality.

For residents of DFW, the reductions in pollution are overdue and welcome news (the process leading up to this rule can be traced all the way back to 1977), and it certainly makes it even less likely that the big bad old TXU plants (Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake) can escape their obsolescence after bankruptcy proceedings.

But the way the EPA determined to go it alone in this case may be much more important to DFW's own air quality in the long run as the actual reductions it implements. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but EPA called BS on the way Texas was obscuring the data needed to write a good haze rule plan. This M.O. sounds awfully familiar to citizens watching the way the State has drafted its anti-smog plan for DFW, now officially approved by the TCEQ Commissioners and on its way to a public hearing in Arlington on Thursday, January 21st (6 pm, HQ of North Central Texas Council of Governments, 616 Six Flags Road).

And if EPA is willing to stand-up to Texas over air quality in parks, shouldn't it take at least as strong a stand on behalf of seven million souls in DFW?

About the same time EPA was announcing a federal takeover of the haze rule plan, Downwinders released its new video appealing for help from the EPA to reject the State's do-nothing smog plan for DFW. A big part of our case is its reliance on faulty analysis and downplaying or obscuring evidence that contradicts the state's ideological position that no new pollution controls for smog are needed in a region in its third decade of continual violation of the Clean Air Act and after a summer where smog averages increased…twice.

Which makes the language EPA uses to justify this takeover of the haze rule plan all the more relevant, and gives residents some hope should the Agency apply the same logic to the State's pathetic response to DFW's chronic smog problem.

EPA accuses Texas of hiding the most effective control strategies from EPA and Oklahoma (where the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is affected by Texas-based pollution seven times as much as Oklahoma-based SOx) by flooding its emissions inventory data with both large and small sources of SOx from across the state, washing out the impact of the larger coal plants.

"During the interstate consultation required by the Regional Haze Rule, Oklahoma and Texas discussed the significant contribution of sources in Texas to visibility impairment at the Wichita Mountains, but Texas concluded that no additional controls were warranted for its sources during the first planning period to ensure reasonable progress at the Wichita Mountains, or at its own Class I areas, the Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

In reaching this conclusion, Texas relied on an analysis that obscured the benefits of potentially cost-effective controls on those sources or groups of sources with the largest visibility impacts in these Class I areas by inclusion of those controls with little visibility benefit, but which served to increase the total cost figures.

This flawed analysis deprived Oklahoma of the information it needed to properly assess the reasonableness of controls on Texas sources during the consultation process and prevented Texas from properly assessing the reasonableness of controls to remedy visibility at Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains.

A few pages later EPA reiterates the charge,

Texas’ analysis was deficient and not approvable because the large control set it selected was not appropriately refined, targeted, or focused on those sources having the most significant and potentially cost-effective visibility benefits. We conclude this control set included controls on sources that would increase total cost figures, but would achieve very little visibility benefit…because Texas only estimated the visibility benefit of all the controls together, it was not able to assess the potential benefit of controlling those sources with the greatest visibility impacts, and potentially cost-effective controls. Therefore, the effects of those controls with the greatest visibility benefits were obscured by the inclusion of those controls with little visibility benefit. This only served to increase the total cost figure, making Texas’ potential control set seem less attractive.

In analyzing whether additional controls should be required for some of its sources under the long-term strategy provisions of the Regional Haze Rule, Texas relied on the same flawed analysis discussed above that it relied on to evaluate additional controls under the reasonable progress provisions to address visibility impairment at Texas’ own Class I areas. Texas’ analytical approach obscured the contributions of individual sources that Texas’ own analysis indicated could be cost-effectively controlled.

This deprived Oklahoma of the information it needed to properly assess whether there were reasonable controls for Texas sources and to properly establish reasonable progress goals for the Wichita Mountains that included the resulting emission reductions. 

That's just about as plain an outline of a state government conspiracy to avoid complying with the Clean Air Act as the EPA puts in print. And it sets the stage to examine the State's DFW air plan using the same fine-toothed comb for rooting-out analytical crap meant to obscure inconvenient facts on the ground.

For example, the State's conclusion that no new controls for smog are warranted is based on an analysis of what's "reasonably available" that's every bit as flawed as anything dreamed up by Austin for dodging its responsibilities to national parks. It ignores modern controls already operating on cement kilns, gas compressors, and coal plants – to the point of not even mentioning the permitting of these controls by the TCEQ itself.

Moreover, hard as it is to believe, the state's conclusion on smog controls is based on no modeling of the impact of those controls on air quality. That was left up to Downwinders and its UNT study, using the state's own computer modeling. What that effort provided was nothing less than a road map for how to get the most cost-effective cuts in smog by reducing pollution from those kilns, coal plants, and compressors. This is information the state could have gotten if it wanted it, but it didn't want it because it disputed the ideological position that no new pollution controls for industry are justified. It knew if it looked, it would have to release the results. So it just didn't look.

Finally, the state is still claiming that its plan will get DFW "close enough," to the 75 ppb standard, clocking-in at 77.8 ppb. So the plan doesn't even accomplish its goal. That makes it completely indistinguishable from the last five state air plans for DFW. What the State is counting on is EPA giving them credit for a wish list collection of unquantifiable stuff under the regulatory category of "Weight of Evidence." This is exactly the same strategy used in past plans. Ride new changes in federal law as far as you can and convince the EPA that "trends" are in your favor to make up any slack.

Only this time, "trends" may be working against the State. The summer of 2015 saw an increase in regional smog averages, indicating that perhaps its do-nothing approach isn't working. If you combine this information with the fact that smog levels also rose during the last do-noting plan from 2011, you have some "trends" crying out for an EPA takeover. 

Since the TCEQ has approved its DFW air plan for submittal to EPA, we won't have to wait long to find out what the Agency's response will be. Public comments are due by January 29th. Let's hope EPA's review of an air plan for people's health in the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area is as rigorous as it was for the one looking out for visitors to the Wichita Mountains. 

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Tamera Bounds: Our Agitator of the Year

by jim on December 11, 2015

Agitator of the year Tamera

"agitator"
noun
ag·i·ta·tor \ˈa-jə-ˌtā-tər\
Definition of agitator
    •  a person who urges others to protest or rebel.
    •  a device for stirring or shaking something.

For a long time now, Downwinders has used its end-of-the-year gatherings to recognize special accomplishments among is board members. One of these recognitions is almost as old as the 21-year old group itself, our "Agitator of the Year" award.

Originally created to take back ownership of a word used so pejoratively by our opponents, the exercise has succeeded in becoming an annual institution of sorts, symbolized by the awarding of an actual "bronzed" washing machine agitator. In giving the honor, we explain that just like the actual thing itself, an agitator must shake and stir up things. They must often shake and stir more to get the really deeply-embedded dirt out. And even when  things don't come out 100% shiny, they're always better having been put through the wash. 

In 2015, we had no better role model for effective agitation than Tamera Bounds, a new board member from Mansfield, where she's been deeply involved in that city's battle over gas drilling rules for the last three years.

Tamera's Mansfield Gas Well Awareness group took the fight over more protective practices right to the middle of the Gas Patch. While she came up short on getting as much as she wanted, she managed to put the fear of God into the industry, who mounted the largest post-Denton campaign to shut her down, and completely overhauled an obsolete city-drilling ordinance. She and her group of concerned residents forced the last big fight over urban fracking before the passage of HB40.

Not content with that result, Tamera then decided to run for Mansfield City Council in the Spring, directy taking on the town's good ol' boy power structure and running in a town where all the seats are still "at-large" (the Voting Rights Act not having discovered Mansfield on a map yet). Again, she came up short, but advanced her cause among fellow residents and frightened the bejeepers out of the Gas industry.

On the Downwinders board, she became an early advocate of the grassroots conference that would become our Root and Branch Revue. She took responsibility for organizing the first look at a post-HB40 strategy for fracking activists, as well as a the full day of workshops in our "University of Change." These would not have gone as well as they did, or happened at all, without her leadership. 

Along with some other key "new-wave" fracking activists, she's now trying to do what should have been done a decade ago and establish a regional alliance of citizen groups who can work together across city limits. 

Oh yeah, she does all this while being the president of her homeowners association and performing her full time job as a health care professional who practically offices out of her car.

She's shown herself to be a non-nonsense hard worker whose energy is now indispensable to our Board. She's set a very high bar of productivity that even full-time professional organizers would be hard-pressed to match. She exemplifies the kind of activist who not only tries to win her own battle, but seeks to contribute to the larger fight as well.

That's why Downwinders at Risk's  2015 Agitator of the Year goes to Tamera Bounds with much appreciation and affection. Thanks Tamera, and to all our agitating board members who give their time and energy to shake and stir things up so that they – and you – won' have to breathe air that will make them sick or kill them.

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“Help Us. We Live in Texas.”

by jim on December 9, 2015

(Dallas)— “Help Us: We Live in Texas.”

That’s the plea of a video released today by a local clean air group claiming the state has so intentionally sabotaged Dallas-Fort Worth anti-smog efforts that residents now need EPA to take over the job.

“Texas is as likely to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2015 as Mississippi was to enforce the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” said Downwinders at Risk’s Director Jim Schermbeck, echoing a line in the video.

The group posted the 2:42 minute piece, titled “SOS @EPA” in response to this morning's vote by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to move forward with a new anti-smog plan for DFW that the Commission has already been told by EPA falls short of legal and regulatory requirements. 

In the video, footage from a Downwinders’ street action calling for help at EPA Regional Headquarters in downtown Dallas November 5th is spliced with facts about DFW’s 20 years and counting chronic smog problem. Central to the group’s charge is the state’s unwillingness to put new controls on major sources of industrial air pollution like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas coal plants, and gas facilities – despite the fact their own air modeling shows those controls could bring smog down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act.

Today’s vote by the TCEQ is the second in 12 months concerning the same DFW air plan. Its goal is to get from an average of 83 parts per billion (ppb) of smog in 2015 down to the current federal standard of 75 ppb by 2017.

However, the state only estimates a best-case result of almost 78 ppb.  Despite that shortfall, there are no new pollution controls required of any major sources. Over the last 20 years, the state has written five anti-smog plans for DFW. None has accomplished its goal on deadline, and regional smog levels actually rose this year.

Besides once again failing to hit is mark overall, the EPA has already told the State its formal assessment of modern pollution controls for those major sources needed revisiting to be legal. TCEQ refused to comply with EPA and today’s plan contains exactly the same assessment as the one EPA has already said isn’t sufficient, making that part of the plan instantly illegal.  Although EPA gives state governments authorization to write smog plans for their own metropolitan areas, it still has final approval based on criteria listed in the Clean Air Act.

One of the points made in the group’s video is that studies by local hospitals have shown DFW childhood asthma rates to be as much as four times the state average and over twice the national average, making the need for cleaner air imperative.

“The health of seven million Dallas-Fort Worth residents is being held hostage by a state government hostile to the goal of clean air. Only federal intervention can save us,” said Schermbeck.

The video can be found at Downwinders at Risk’s website (downwindersatrisk.org), it’s Facebook page, twitter account (@cleaner air) and the group’s YouTube channel (Downwinders’ TV).
__________________________________
SEND EPA ADMINISTRATORS A MESSAGE TO REJECT THE STATE'S PLAN AND WRITE ONE OF ITS OWN:
http://www.downwindersatrisk.org/featured-citizen-action/

AND

SIGN THE CHANGE.ORG PETITION:
https://www.change.org/p/ron-curry-and-gina-mccarthy-environmental-protection-agency-reject-texas-smog-plan-for-dallas-ft-worth
________________________________________
LIKE THIS VIDEO? LIKE OUR WORK? THINK IT'S IMPORTANT?
THEN PLEASE MAKE A 
TAX-DEDUCTABLE CONTRIBUTION TO DOWNWINDERS BEFORE DECEMBER 31st.
DONATE HERE.

________________________________________
WHY?

It might be hard to believe, but despite being the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area, AND being in constant violation of the Clean Air Act for smog since 1991, AND having higher annual smog numbers than Houston, AND being singled out by EPA as one of only a handful of areas expecting to STILL be in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2025, there’s still only one professional staff person devoted to cleaning up DFW air: the staff person you pay for when you contribute to Downwinders at Risk.

Besides community organizing on the ground, Downwinders also had to go out and build a new committee of local officials concerned about dirty air after the traditional regional air quality planning process broke down. That committee produced a first-ever study showing how new pollution controls on the kilns, coal plants, and compressors could bring smog levels down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act. Our study was used by the Dallas Commissioners Court to pass a resolution requesting new controls on the East Texas coal plants in October. Had it not been for our new committee, there would have been no local officials involved in the DFW air quality planning process at all, and noaccountability for a state government that isn’t interested in our lungs.

Want to get just basic information about DFW air pollution? There are no dedicated environmental beat reporters left in DFW. Downwinders fills this gap as well, providing the only source of reliable and timely information on DFW air quality issues.

Need technical or organizing training? We do that too. Many of you know we just sponsored our first conference – the four-day Root and Branch Revue, featuring a graduating class of 70 grassroots activists from our first “University of Change.”

When you give to Downwinders, you fund the last line of defense between your lungs and a state government that doesn’t believe smog is that bad for you.

And when you give to Downwinders, you know you’re giving to a group with a two decade proven track record of getting results.

That’s our pitch. We get your donation. You get our best effort at protecting your lungs.

On behalf of myself, and the Downwinders at Risk board, thank you for your consideration.

jimsignaturesm

 

 

Jim Schermbeck
Director, Downwinders at Risk

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Gas_Bridge_banner_2In late November, a new report by Goldman Sachs came out predicitng “New wind turbines and solar panels worldwide will provide more energy over the next five years than U.S. shale-oil production has over the past five."

“The leading renewable-energy technologies will add the equivalent of 6.2 million barrels of oil a day to the global energy mix, exceeding the 5.7 million barrels a day pumped from U.S. shale oil wells since 2010 …" According to the study, "the biggest shift will occur over the next decade as demand for renewable energy, LED lighting and plug-in vehicles accelerates.”

“Wind and solar are on track to exceed 100 gigawatts in new installations for the first time,’ the authors wrote. "Solar and wind energy are saving a gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions annually and the market for four leading low-carbon technologies is now worth more than $600 billion per year.”

It's possible we're seeing the "Bridge Fuel" run out of road as a new era in power generation gears up.

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pm-2.5Long term exposure to small particulate pollution from combustion sources, specifically coal-fired power plants, is up to five time more likely to kill you through heart damage than other forms of natural or human-made "PM."

That's the conclusion of new comprehensive study comparing risks from breathing-in the tiniest specs of soot from combustion sources for over 450,000 Americans in 100 cities from 1984 to 2014. Published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this month to coincide with the Paris climate talks, the study has ten co-authors and promises to be a milestone in the long fight to reduce this form of pollution.

Combustion of any sort releases fine and ultra-fine particles of soot, or "Particulate Matter" in the often antiseptic regulatory-speak of environmental regulation. These specks differ from dust particles or fireplace soot in that they're much, much smaller and so can be inhaled deeper into the lungs, and then, even pass from the lungs into the blood steam to affect other organs and systems. It's their tiny size that makes PM pollution dangerous on its own. Over the last 30 years, scientists and public health officials have gone from being worried about PM 10 (10 microns or less), to PM 2.5 (2.5 microns or less – about  100th of the width of a human hair), to Ultra-fine Particles.

But soot from combustion also carries residues of whatever was being burned in the facility it came from, and this makes it doubly toxic. If you're burning coal, the soot might carry bits of Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium and Lead, for example. The new study says that difference is what really drives up risk for people breathing-in coal plant PM.

DFW vs TX PM LEVELS

Locally, DFW is chock full of large industrial sources of combustible PM.

We're surrounded by five coal plants in an arc on its northeastern to southeastern side. That means we're downwind of their pollution, including their particulate matter pollution, most of the year. Their impact on local smog levels has recently been chronicled by Downwinders' study from UNT.

PM Pollution would follow approximately the same patterns although heavier particles fall closer to the source, while the really fine particles drift for hundreds or thousands of miles. Luminant’s 2013 Emissions Inventory submission reports 1400 tons of 2.5 particulate matter in a single year at its Big Brown plant.  And that may be a severe underestimate. Big Brown’s two Units have exceeded the Texas SIP’s opacity limit of 30 percent on thousands of occasions over the past decade.

Luminant's Martin Creek plant released 2,018 pounds of mercury into the environment in 2013, according to the Toxic Release Inventory, and in fact Texas hosted the top three mercury polluters among all coal plants in the US that year. 

Closer in, there's the three Midlothian cement plants with a total of four kilns now. Modernization and controls forced by 20 years of campaigning by Downwinders have brought the numbers down dramatically, but they're still huge facilities that deal in both a dusty raw material, and burning lots of coal and industrial wastes like tires and used oil, and even car parts, to turn that into a higher grade of raw material. When you burn exotic materials with coal, you turbocharge the toxicity of the PM pollution even more.  In 2013, the last year the state has numbers posted online, the three cement plants released approximately 440 tons of 2.5 PM pollution.

But cement plants weren't included in the study and so the risk evaluations in it for DFW are underestimated.

Midlothian is also the home to the very large French-owned Amersteel (formally Chaparral Steel) secondary steel mill and steel mills were included as a source category in the study and were also associated with a higher mortality rate.  Just about every 18-wheeler trailer you see on local highways loaded with crushed cars is headed to this facility – across the street from the TXI cement plant. Imagine the residues on the soot from melting down thousands of used cars into liquid metal. In 2013, the plant released 133 tons of PM 2.5.

But by far, the largest PM polluter in the DFW area, bar none is the Owens-Corning fibreglass plant in north Waxahahchie, along I-45. It released a whopping 300 tons of PM 2.5 pollution in 2013 alone. No other facility  comes close – not the cement plants or the steel mill down 287. Not the GM plant in Arlington. It's not known how much of Owens-Corning PM is combusted however. It could be from the manufactiuring process.

Diesel engines in vehicles were also included, and the study found they has an association with higher mortality, but not nearly as significant as coal plants or steel mills. There's been a steady stream of studies tying highway pollution to respiratory and neurological illness among near-by populations, especially children. Most of the risk is assigned to PM pollution, and most of that is coming from diesels. 

PM vs hair

Just as important as the conclusion that coal-combusted particulate matter is significantly more dangerous than your average speck of dust is the study's indictment of current EPA risk assessments that operate on exactly the opposite assumption. The authors are critical that the Agency still weighs the risk of desert dust the same as combusted soot in computing long-term human health effects.

There are potentially enormous public heath and policy implications for North Texans in the study's conclusions. 

First, the campaign to get the most modern anti-smog controls included in the latest DFW air plan has the side benefit of reducing PM pollution too. Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) on the cement kilns and coal plants decreases smog-forming pollution by up to 90%, and makes an effective additional PM catcher as well, increasing soot capture by 30-50%. The technology is particularly effective on the kind of PM that carries dangerous heavy metals like Mercury.  Of course, retiring already-obsolete coal plants would eliminate the threat all together.

Likewise, electrification of compressors would not only lead to decreases in smog-forming emissions, but  PM pollution from those sources as well.

Next, it means the already large public health costs of bad air in DFW just published by Dr. Robert Haley of UTSW in his own study are severely underestimated, since they were based on the EPA's own risk assessment software that doesn't weigh the harm of coal power plant PM differently from any other speck of PM 2.5. Adjust those numbers for the exposure to toxic soot and you could see a huge increase in lives lost, illness caused, and dollars spent.

Finally there are implications for almost very other source of combustion around – burning is bad. Where's there's a flame, a boiler, a furnace, a process that means burning something to get something in return, there's going to be PM pollution. What you burn is as important as how you burn it. Burn coal and get the residues of coal on the PM. Burn hazardous waste, and you get the residues from those wastes on the PM. Burn diesel fuel in your truck or car and get residues from that fuel mix packed away in your particulate matter.

As one of the major authors of the study said, if you want to do something about this kind of pollution – start with the most toxic forms of combusted PM. Those mostly come from large industrial sources – the coal plants, cement kilns, and compressors already in our sights because they're also smog polluters.  We knew they were a problem. Now we know even more about why they're a bigger problem.

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(Dallas)— “Help Us: We Live in Texas.”

That’s the plea of a video released today by a local clean air group claiming the state has so intentionally sabotaged Dallas-Fort Worth anti-smog efforts that residents now need EPA to take over the job.

“Texas is as likely to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2015 as Mississippi was to enforce the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” said Downwinders at Risk’s Director Jim Schermbeck, echoing a line in the video.

The group posted the 2:42 minute piece, titled “SOS @EPA” in response to this morning's vote by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to move forward with a new anti-smog plan for DFW that the Commission has already been told by EPA falls short of legal and regulatory requirements.  

In the video, footage from a Downwinders’ street action calling for help at EPA Regional Headquarters in downtown Dallas November 5th is spliced with facts about DFW’s 20 years and counting chronic smog problem. Central to the group’s charge is the state’s unwillingness to put new controls on major sources of industrial air pollution like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas coal plants, and gas facilities – despite the fact their own air modeling shows those controls could bring smog down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act.

Today’s vote by the TCEQ is the second in 12 months concerning the same DFW air plan. Its goal is to get from an average of 83 parts per billion (ppb) of smog in 2015 down to the current federal standard of 75 ppb by 2017.  However, the state only estimates a best-case result of almost 78 ppb.  Despite that shortfall, there are no new pollution controls required of any major sources. Over the last 20 years, the state has written five anti-smog plans for DFW.  None has accomplished its goal on deadline, and regional smog levels actually rose this year.

Besides once again failing to hit is mark overall, the EPA has already told the State its formal assessment of modern pollution controls for those major sources needed revisiting to be legal. TCEQ refused to comply with EPA and today’s plan contains exactly the same assessment as the one EPA has already said isn’t sufficient, making that part of the plan instantly illegal.  Although EPA gives state governments authorization to write smog plans for their own metropolitan areas, it still has final approval based on criteria listed in the Clean Air Act.

One of the points made in the group’s video is that studies by local hospitals have shown DFW childhood asthma rates to be as much as four times the state average and over twice the national average, making the need for cleaner air imperative. 

 “The health of seven million Dallas-Fort Worth residents is being held hostage by a state government hostile to the goal of clean air. Only federal intervention can save us,” said Schermbeck.

The video can be found at Downwinders at Risk’s website (downwindersatrisk.org), it’s Facebook page, twitter account (@cleaner air) and the group’s YouTube channel (Downwinders’ TV).

__________________________________________________________________________________________

SEND EPA ADMINISTRATORS A MESSAGE TO REJECT THE STATE'S PLAN AND WRITE ONE OF ITS OWN:

http://www.downwindersatrisk.org/featured-citizen-action/

SIGN THE CHANGE.ORG PETITION:

https://www.change.org/p/ron-curry-and-gina-mccarthy-environmental-protection-agency-reject-texas-smog-plan-for-dallas-ft-worth

____________________________________________________________________________________

LIKE THIS VIDEO? LIKE OUR WORK? THINK IT'S IMPORTANT?

THEN PLEASE MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTABLE CONTRIBUTION TO DOWNWINDERS BEFORE DECEMBER 31st.

DONATE HERE.

________________________________________________________________________________________

WHY?

It might be hard to believe, but despite being the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area, and being in constant violation of the Clean Air Act for smog since 1991, and having higher annual smog numbers than Houston, and being singled out by EPA as one of only a handful of areas expecting to STILL be in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2025, there’s still only one professional staff person devoted to cleaning up DFW air: the staff person you pay for when you contribute to Downwinders at Risk.

Besides community organizing on the ground, Downwinders also had to go out and build a new committee of local officials concerned about dirty air after the traditional regional air quality planning process broke down. That committee produced a first-ever study showing how new pollution controls on the kilns, coal plants, and compressors could bring smog levels down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act. Our study was used by the Dallas Commissioners Court to pass a resolution requesting new controls on the East Texas coal plants in October. Had it not been for our new committee, there would have been no local officials involved in the DFW air quality planning process at all, and noaccountability for a state government that isn’t interested in our lungs.

Want to get just basic information about DFW air pollution? There are no dedicated environmental beat reporters left in DFW. Downwinders fills this gap as well, providing the only source of reliable and timely information on DFW air quality issues.

Need technical or organizing training? We do that too. Many of you know we just sponsored our first conference – the four-day Root and Branch Revue, featuring a graduating class of 70 grassroots activists from our first “University of Change.”

When you give to Downwinders, you fund the last line of defense between your lungs and a state government that doesn’t believe smog is that bad for you.

And when you give to Downwinders, you know you’re giving to a group with a two decade proven track record of getting results.

That’s our pitch. We get your donation. You get our best effort at protecting your lungs.

On behalf of myself, and the Downwinders at Risk board, thank you for your consideration.

jimsignaturesm

 

 

Jim Schermbeck

Director, Downwinders at Risk

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Middle Finger

(Dallas)– In an unprecedented rebuke to the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas has refused to provide critical data EPA says it needs to approve the state’s controversial anti-smog plan for DFW, which requires no new pollution controls despite more than two decades of chronic bad air.

Texas' refusal to cooperate with EPA puts its plan, scheduled to be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality December 9th, on a collision course with the federal agency.

Although EPA gives state governments authorization to write smog plans for their own metropolitan areas, it still has final approval based on criteria listed in the Clean Air Act. EPA disapproval of the State's DFW plan would trigger the possibility of a federal takeover of the air planning process. 

That would be fine with local air quality activists, who've been pushing for the EPA to take over the job of writing a new clean air plan for North Texas since the State unveiled its first draft last year. They say TCEQ's official position that smog isn't harming public health means the Commission can't be trusted to write an effective anti-smog plan. When the state announced a plan imposing no new controls on any sources of air pollution despite DFW being in continual violation of the Clean Air Act for the last quarter century, they feel they were proven right.

"It's as if the state is too embarrassed to do what EPA is asking for fear of finding facts that don't match its ideology," said Jim Schermbeck, Director of the local clean air group, Downwinders at Risk.

He noted among the most important missing items in the State’s final plan published November 20th was a "Reasonably Available Control Technology"(RACT) study for the Midlothian cement plants, as well as answers to the impact of controls on other sources like the East Texas coal plants and oil and gas facilities that EPA posed in its eleven pages of official comments on the first draft last February. Application of modern pollution controls to all major sources of air pollution in a smog-plagued region is a key component of the Clean Air Act.

In official comments last February, EPA specifically requested the state perform a new study of what kind of smog controls should be required of the three Midlothian cement plants immediately south of DFW. EPA warned lack of such a study would mean the plan would be disapproved:

"Failure to conduct a thorough RACT analysis for cement kilns which would include appropriate emission limits would prevent us from approving the RACT portion of the attainment plan submittal.”

By turning-in the same version of the technology review originally criticized by EPA, without any new additional analysis, the TCEQ began a bureaucratic game of "Chicken," daring the EPA to deny approval.

"If you're EPA, I don't see how you take this any other way than a big raised middle finger from Austin," said Schermbeck. "The question is: What's EPA gonna do about it now?"

Also missing in the final state version are any responses to other EPA's concerns and questions about the plan's chances of actually lowering smog levels and the possibilities of reducing smog with new controls on other sources, such as,

“How would a reduction in NOx emissions from utility electric generators in the counties closest to the eastern and southern boundaries of the DFW area impact the DFW area?”

EPA was already openly skeptical about the chances of the state’s plan succeeding without requiring any additional cuts in pollution. Stating “it would be difficult to see” how the plan meets its required 2017 deadline, the Agency concluded we believe it is likely that additional reductions will need to be included to demonstrate attainment.”

TCEQ’s resubmitted plan doesn’t have any additional reductions. Failure of a state plan to show how it can reach the smog standard by 2017 would be cause for EPA to assume the job itself.

Evidence suggests the state is purposely overlooking the air quality benefits of controls on large industrial sources of air pollution affecting DFW.

In late October, Downwinders at Risk released a new study of its own. It paid for University of North Texas engineers to build a clone of the State’s DFW air computer model and run a series of control scenarios the state hasn’t performed in almost a decade. Using the TCEQ’s own numbers it showed new controls on the cement kilns, coal plants, and gas compressors in the Barnett Shale would lower smog levels enough to meet the current federal smog standard. DFW hasn’t met a federal standard for smog since once was created in 1991.

Dismissing the results as “limited,” TCEQ officials nevertheless agreed with them – since they were based on their own model. The State argues those new controls are not yet technically or economically feasible – despite their being commonplace around the world, in the US, and even in Texas.

This question is one of the keys to the standoff with EPA: are the proposed new controls for industry “Reasonably Available” or not? If they are, they must be included in the air plan. If not, they remain off the table. EPA makes the first call on a definition, and any aggrieved party can sue to expand or contract it.

Because it’s a national hot spot for smog, DFW is only one of a handful of US metro areas that even had to submit a clean air plan this last cycle. EPA computer modeling predicts the area will still be in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2015 unless significant reductions in pollution are made. 

This summer saw the North Texas regional smog average rise twice in one hot August week, retreating from gains made during last year’s cooler, wetter summer. DFW once again has higher annual smog levels than Houston.  Both cities remain well above the current standard.

According to the American Lung Association, the 10 county DFW “non-attainment” area for smog includes approximately 150,000 asthmatic children, 350,000 adults with asthma, and over 600,000 adults with cardiovascular disease or COPD – all of whom are at risk from the region’s bad air.

“The lungs and lives of seven million residents are being held hostage by a state government that doesn’t think smog is a problem and isn’t willing to require new pollution controls to reduce it, “ Schermbeck pleaded

Expecting the State of Texas to enforce Environmental laws in 2015 is like expecting the State of Mississippi to enforce Civil Rights laws in 1965. Our only hope is federal intervention.”

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a.baa-Tattoo-Close-EnoughOnly an hour after a public plea to EPA by local residents to rescue them from the state's laissez-faire enforcement of environmental laws, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proved the protesters' point at last Friday's regional air quality meeting by announcing a bigger gap between the current federal smog standard and the Commission's anti-smog plan supposedly designed to meet that standard in DFW.

The goal is to average 75 parts per billion (ppb) or less of ozone in the air over any single eight hour period at all 20 DFW monitors by 2017, per a court order that rolled the deadline back from 2018. DFW is at 83 ppb now. TCEQ announced its latest estimates have DFW clocking-in a best case scenario of 77.8 parts per billion by the end of 2017.

But don't worry, because TCEQ says that's still "close enough" to 75 to count as a bulls-eye. 

One wonders what would happen if this kind of precision was practiced in other critical fields. Your surgeon mistakes your Thoracic Aorta for the Abdominal Aorta? Understandable, they both start with "A." Bank statement off by a decimal point or two? Surely not enough of a change to worry about.

And is a jump of almost two parts per billion in regional smog over the last estimate any reason for perhaps considering new smog controls for major sources of pollution, like, say, cement plants, coal plants, or oil and gas sources? Nope, says TCEQ. No need to inconvenience those industries because of some little ol' public health harms that we as a state agency have been trying to downplay and deny for years now. 

"2 to 3 parts per billion here, 2 to 3 parts per billion there  – what's the difference" TCEQ asks? "We'll throw in things the EPA can't possibly quantify – like 'sustainable building' and 'bicycle paths' and Viola! we'll get down to "77" ppb in two years with no problems…somehow. That's within the margin of error – that we always blow past. We've always relied on this tried and true approach of aiming low and we've had great success so far, we're 0 for 5 in reaching attainment on time over the last two decades."

Co-facilitating this charade to some extent is EPA itself, which still allows state governments to round DOWN 77.8 to 77, knocking off almost a whole part per billion in TCEQ's always-sunny scenario on paper, if not in the actual atmosphere of 2018, where it counts more. 

Particularly galling about the state's lackadaisical approach to meeting the current 75 standard is that it comes at a time when we know that number is still too high to adequately protect public health. EPA has just proposed lowering it to 70 ppb based on an overwhelming amount of evidence. Instead of a smog plan that always seems to come in two to three parts per billion over the standard, how about we draft one that comes in at one to three parts per billion under the standard? One that anticipates the need to get even cleaner air in the future and gives us a running start?

As it turns out, we have fresh evidence, provided by the state's own computer model, that requiring off-the-shelf modern pollution controls on those cement kilns, coal plants, and oil and gas facilities could lower DFW regional smog by at least one to two parts per billion, putting us in a much more likely position to actually meet the smog standard. TCEQ looks at this result, wrinkles up its collective nose and says its only a one or two parts per billion change. To which the logical reply is: "OK, show us how you get down closer to 75 ppb without cuts in emissions from those major sources."

Crickets.

Because of course, TCEQ has no alternative, no Plan B, no way to get down to the 75 ppb standard that involves doing something. It isn't invested in that goal. As its website explains, the Commission's "customers" are the industries seeking its permits. Many of those customers are very upset at the mean ol' EPA for following the Clean Air Act. And the customer is always right. 

So TCEQ drafts a customer-friendly clean air plan for DFW with no controls on any major sources, makes a new federal gasoline mix do most of the work in the computer model, and (theoretically) crosses the finish line at three parts per billion over the standard. See how hard they tried?

The last time TCEQ tried as hard was the 2011 DFW clean air plan. That "do-nothing" plan was predicted by the state to take us to historically low smog levels because so many more new cars were going to be purchased – during the Great Recession. All we had to do was sit back and watch those babies fly off the lots!

It was the first DFW clean air plan in 20 years to actually produce higher smog levels.

First, but maybe not the last. Regional smog averages rose twice this summer – the first of three that make up a running annual average determining success or failure of the TCEQ plan by 2017. How do you know when a TCEQ clean air plan is being implemented? Smog goes up. 

EPA's own modeling is already predicting TCEQ's current  "do-nothing" plan won't work, and concludes DFW will be one of only a hand full of metropolitan areas still breathing unsafe and illegal air ten years from now.

In point of fact, no matter how many parts per billion, no gap would be wide enough for TCEQ to find cause for more pollution controls on major sources. They've rigged the game to produce a result they hope allows them to slide by and get EPA approval. It's our responsibility to make sure EPA doesn't give it.  

Texas state government has no intention of trying to meet the federal smog standard. It has every intention of dragging out the process so it's unwillingness to implement measures to meet it are obscured by more deadline failures and new Designed-to-Fail plans from Austin. It is a never-ending cycle there's no escape from as long as TCEQ is in charge. Expecting Texas to vigorously enforce environmental laws in 2015 is like expecting Mississippi to enforce federal civil rights law in 1965.

Crowd shot w: inhaler

That's why it's important for EPA to takeover the job.

Is it a perfect solution? No, but it's one with a beginning, middle and end, carried out by an agency that still officially believes smog is a public health threat.

PLEASE…sign the petition for a real clean air plan from EPA

AND

PLEASE…send an e-mail to the regional and national EPA Administrators saying you want them to take over the job of writing a clean air plan for DFW.

 

Only we can prevent another twenty years of dirty air.

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