Lege Slashes Air Quality Budget…Making Our Wise County Citizen Science Project More Important

by jim on May 1, 2017

Not to be outdone by the Trump Administration’s attempted deconstruction of the Clean Air Act, the Texas House of Representatives voted in early April to take $20 million from the Air Quality Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and spend it on an alternatives to abortion program.

$20 million may not sound like much in a an office that has a $191 million budget, but a lot of that total is dedicated to programs in place around the state. For example, over $150 million is set aside for vehicle “emission reduction” grants to local governments in smoggy non attainment areas like Houston and DFW to subsidize new engine and repairs. A lot less is truly discretionary and a lot more at risk.

For example, TCEQ only spends a little over $6 million on grants for air monitoring. And it doesn’t get all that much bang for its buck. Only 20 monitors record smog levels over ten counties where seven million people live in DFW. This leaves huge gaps where there should be monitors but aren’t. Like Wise County.

Only Wise County isn’t just an unintentional gap in smog data. It’s a premeditated black hole, left there by design by the same TCEQ whose job it is to set-up air quality monitoring in DFW.

Over at least the last two decades, model after computer model has shown Wise County to have among the highest, if not the highest smog levels of any county in the DFW non-attainment area. Yet every time the state had the opportunity to locate a monitor to confirm those models, it passed. Why?

Because the higher the smog levels officially recorded in DFW, the more industry needs to reduce pollution by adding controls or replacing obsolete equipment.

As it is, a single tiny part per billion difference in our regional smog level was responsible for North Texas getting an exemption to turn in any plan at all for the new, and newly-endangered, 70 ppb federal ozone standard. We’re at 80. If we’d been at 81 ppb we would have had to turn in a plan. Probably a terrible one, but still a plan. A plan we could then use for court fodder to maybe get something. Now even that slim piece of leverage is gone.  It’s very possible monitors in Wise County would have given us an average of 81 or greater, forcing DFW to write a plan for the brand new standard. And that’s why the current TCEQ doesn’t want a monitor there. 

Which is why we’re going there with our own smog monitors. 

We just invested $10,000 in two EPA-calibrated ozone sensors that we’re dedicating to the job of measuring Wise County smog. The monitors got their own display at Earth Day and their own photo shoot at D magazine for an upcoming article. Stay tuned for Texas Observer coverage as well.  Meanwhile, here’s Culture Map’s piece.

The easiest part is done – we bought the equipment. Now we need your help in building what may the biggest and most important citizen science project in North Texas.

We’ll be launching our effort in June but we need people now who can help us build a stationary, internet-connected monitor for a location in Wise county and others who live in or near there who can help drive and take measurements from a car along a specified grid. This is your chance to actually join others and strike back against the Empire on a 24/7 basis using….SCIENCE!!!

If you’re interested in volunteering to be a Wise County Smog Tracker or want help with the Project in any capacity, please contact us at downwindersatrisk@gmail.org. Thanks. 

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