2019’s “ozone season” came in like a lamb but is headed out as big, wheezy lion.

A three-day stretch from Thursday September 5th to Saturday the 7th that combined triple digit temperatures with lots of air pollution was enough to push Dallas-Fort Worth smog numbers for the year over 2018’s annual average.  It was the first year-to-year increase in ozone levels since 2015, and more than enough to insure DFW will be in violation of the Clean Air Act for the 28th year in a row.

Because the formula for arriving at these averages is so convoluted, discounts the highest three numbers, and is stretched out over 8-hour periods, it takes a lot ozone to make them go up even incrementally. Raising the annual average by even one part per billion (ppb), from 76  to 77, as occurred by Saturday evening, hides a lot of Really Bad Air. Smog levels were in the 90’s and even close to 100 parts per billion at monitoring sites in the northern part of the Metromess. EPA’s national standard for 8-hour exposure to ozone is a 70 ppb average.

Three sites saw their 2019 highs set during this 72 hour period. Frisco had an eight hour average of 88ppb on Saturday, Keller 84 ppb and North Dallas 83ppb. There were four hours on the afternoon of the 6th when smog was over 90 ppb in Frisco.

That’s reminiscent of the bad ‘ol days from the Turn of the Century when levels in the upper 90’s and even topping 100 ppb were routine. Since 2000, there’s been a more or less steady fall in smog in DFW thanks to better controls on combustion-powered vehicles, and the citizen-induced decreases in pollution from Midlothian cement plants and the retiring of East Texas coal-fired power plants. In 2000 DFW’s annual ozone average was 102 ppb. It’s taken 20 years to lower that number to the high-to-mid 70’s. For the last three years we’ve seen decreases of 3, 1 and 3 ppb. 2019 halts that downward trend.

Beside the human health toll these numbers represent – an increase in asthma attacks, ER visits, strokes and heart attacks. – they also represent a challenge to government. This increase comes as the usual planning process to reduce dirty air in DFW sits in tatters. In fact, there really is no process anymore.

In the past, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NTCOG) would bring the Chambers of Commerce, elected officials and some environmentalists together to cobble out a list of proposed strategies to reduce smog, then submit it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Austin where it would get watered down by corporate lobbying. Nevertheless, those past plans did have an influence on tightening emissions for ancient cement kilns and other industrial sources and they can take some credit for the two-decade decrease in smog.

But that process hasn’t taken place since even before the current administration took office. The last plan submitted by the region to the state was in 2013. Because Austin kept ignoring most of the region’s recommendations, NTCOG just gave up trying after that. It’s Clean Air Steering Committee was disbanded and hasn’t met for six years now. Despite approaching our fourth decade of illegally bad air there’s no official body in DFW working on a regional clean air plan. Everything is being run by Greg Abbott’s state agency  – one that doesn’t believe there’s a climate crisis, wants to increase permissible exposure for dangerous pollutants, and whose former Toxicologist in now leading the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back federal pollution standards.

It’s doubtful a single part per billion rise in the regional average will prompt reconsideration of this laissez-faire approach. But it should.

Before the 2016 election, Downwinders was trying to pave a path for the federal government to take away the power of Austin to determine DFW’s clean air progress. We had hoped to have EPA delegated as the “final cut” author of a new clean air plan. Trump’s election made that impossible. But should this administration be gone by 2021, that strategy is still one local residents would be wise to pursue. As long as the State’s environmental agency is in the hands of anti-science flunkies and fanatics, there will be no concern about DFW smog in Austin.

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One of these is not like the other

What if you found out an industrial polluter was operating in your densely-populated neighborhood and the state told you not to worry because an obsolete computer model of the polluter’s releases 17 years ago and 500 miles away, in a desert, performed by the polluter themselves, said everything was OK?

That’s exactly the situation Joppa residents find themselves in as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) goes through the motions of renewing one of the permits of the many industrial polluters located in the community.

Austin Industries’ asphalt batch plant sits next to the Marietta Martin (TXI) concrete batch plant in Joppa, and both are in the Union Pacific switch yard and all of those are adjacent to the giant Tamko asphalt roofing factory.

Austin has applied to the TCEQ for a renewal of its 10-year old air permit for its Joppa plant and gave notice last December. Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas requested a contested case hearing on behalf of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association and Downwinders at Risk requested one on behalf of resident Jabrille McDuffie.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, TCEQ’s Executive Director recommended against such a hearing at the beginning of August in comments mailed out to all parities. He argued that contrary to the opponent’s claims there was sufficient evidence that Austin Industries permit in Joppa was following the law and was “protective of human health.” Previous “air quality analysis,” the Executive Director says, have concluded such already.

The entire basis of that “air quality analysis” is the computer air modeling performed by Austin Industries’ hired contractors and supposedly double-checked by the state…in 2002.

Just like any other computer model, it all depends on the variables: volume of air pollution, local meteorology, stack height, local “receptors” aka people or animals who live by or near the facility, and even local terrain. Winds do one thing to air pollution on the open plains and another in the middle of a city block.

Because of these variables, an Exxon refinery that wants to build a facility in Houston with the exact same design as is has in Arkansas still has to submit a separate computer model to account for the distinct surroundings in the new location. The one from Arkansas just won’t do for Houston.

Or at least that’s the way things are supposed to work. But like so much else in Southern Dallas these days, things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.

According to the TCEQ the Austin Asphalt facility is a portable asphalt batch plant operation. That means it wasn’t built specifically for its current Joppa site. It was moved there and it can be moved somewhere else.

In 2002 it first operated in Hockley County, a rural part of Northwest Texas near Lubbock some 400 miles west of Joppa. It moved to its current location in Joppa in 2008.

In 2002 the TCEQ let Austin Industries use what’s called a “SCREEN3” air model to determine if the air pollution from its asphalt batch plant’s was a threat to anyone in Hockley County. Again unsurprisingly, the firm hired by Austin Industries to do the computer modeling found it was “protective of human health.”

TCEQ says the Austin Industries’ asphalt plant has never been subject to any additional “impacts evaluation.” besides this 2002 review. 

That means the only air modeling ever done for this Austin asphalt plant was while it was operating in rural Hockley County in 2002. There has been no air modeling of the plant since it came to Joppa in 2008.

In 2002 the Austin plant was in West Texas and used a rural air model. In 2019 they’re still using for it for operation in Joppa.

Besides the most obvious and important difference in population density between unincorporated Hockley County near Lubbock and inner city Dallas, all of the variables in the 2002 modeling apply only to the Hockley County location. Meteorology, stack height, and surrounding terrain among them. In fact, the entire model was defaulted to a “rural” versus “urban” option in 2002.  This renders the modeling scientifically useless in its current location in Joppa.

But that uselessness isn’t keeping the Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from citing it to justify renewal of Austin’s air permit.

There’s also the matter of the age and limitations of the SCREEN3 model. In 2011 EPA replaced it with something called the “AERSCREEN” model. In doing so the agency called the old model “outdated and said “there are no valid reasons” to keep using SCREEN3.

And it’s not just the EPA. State environmental agencies, like the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, have quit accepting SCREEN3 modeling.

Alex De Visscher, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Air Quality and Pollution Control Engineering at the University of Calgary, writing in an 2013 text book entitled “Air Dispersion Modeling: Foundations and Applications,” said SCEEN3 is a product of a previous generation of air dispersion modeling” and “is no longer a recommended model… it does not allow for multiple sources, and it does not include atmospheric chemistry or deposition.” 

These exclusions are important. There are multiple sources of Particulate Matter 2.5 air pollution at Austin Industries’ plant in its Joppa location, including piles of raw material, and industrial combustion at the site. SCREEN 3 modeling didn’t and wouldn’t reflect these multiple sources of pollution. And of course when you’re talking about PM 2.5 pollution, as you are with an asphalt batch plant, the atmospheric chemistry and deposition, or fallout, is critical.

TCEQ’s own air modeling guidelines say so:

“Air dispersion models utilize dispersion coefficients to determine the rate of dispersion for a plume. Dispersion coefficients are influenced by factors such as land-use / land-cover (LULC), terrain, averaging period, and meteorological conditions. Evaluating the LULC within the modeling domain is an integral component to air dispersion modeling. The data obtained from a LULC analysis can be used to determine representative dispersion coefficients. The selection of representative dispersion coefficients may be as simple as selecting between rural or urban land-use types. For the ISC, ISC-PRIME, and SCREEN3 models, the dispersion coefficients are based on whether the area is predominately rural or urban. The classification of the land use in the vicinity of sources of air pollution is needed because dispersion rates differ between rural and urban areas.”

The TCEQ itself says it makes a fundamental difference whether the air model for a polluter is run for urban or rural terrain. Yet for over a decade TCEQ and Austin Asphalt have misused the results of a “rural” computer model to misleadingly assure inner-city Joppa residents that the company’s asphalt plant posed no harm.

What’s more, the modeling performed in 2002 only examined “asphalt vapors,” a made-up, vague pollutant category that can’t be monitored or measured. It didn’t examine Particulate Matter 2.5 pollution or specific Volatile Organic Compounds that make up those “vapors” and was therefore incomplete in the extreme.

So despite all the verbage the TCEQ’s Executive Director uses to tell Joppa residents that past “air analysis” has shown Austin Industries’ plant to be protective of human health, in truth the only “analysis” ever done was performed 17 years ago in a sparsely-populated rural location 400 miles away from its current location, with what TCEQ admits are totally inaccurate modeling inputs by company consultants. It didn’t include all priority pollutants or even all sources of air pollution from the facility and the model used is now considered obsolete by EPA, modeling experts, and other state environmental agencies.

Joppa residents deserve better.

In its response to the Executive Director, Downwinders at Risk specifically requested TCEQ delay further regulatory action on this permit renewal until it can conduct a modern comprehensive air modeling impact analysis for Austin Asphalt’s current operation in Joppa that requires an evaluation of all on-site sources of pollution, including fugitive and mobile sources, on the Austin Asphalt site, off-site near-by sources of pollution within a three kilometer (1.86 mile) radius of Austin Asphalt’s facility, and representative monitored background concentrations obtained from local Joppa neighborhood monitoring as well as modeling of permitted maximums emission rates form all sources.

On September 11th the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will take up the Austin Industries permit renewal at its headquarters in Austin. Both Legal Aid and Downwinders at Risk representatives will be present to answer any questions from the Commissioners but will not be allowed to make any statements. We’ll let you know the outcome.

One might reasonably ask why the City of Dallas itself isn’t fighting this permit renewal? After all in 2007, the city took on a string of proposed coal-fired power plants that it said would increase air pollution for Dallas. But to date that same city has never bothered to try and stop an industrial polluter from opening shop or renewing its permit in one of its most abused neighborhoods.

This dishonest use of a irrelevant model by the state’s discredited environmental agency shows why it’s imperative the City of Dallas – and all municipalities in Texas –  change the way they do business and be proactive in addressing their environmental justice and environmental health issues in their own city limits.

Too often city representatives default to state or federal officials on the environment when they should be the first line of defense, not the last. City officials’ reliance on a failed state agency to perform its job as environmental protector is what caused Shingle Mountain. It’s what caused this situation in Joppa. To change that means changing both policies coming out of City Hall and current City Hall culture. Environmental Protection is a Do-It-Yourself proposition these days.

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 At our June board meeting, we welcomed Cindy Hua to membership on the Downwwinders Board.

Cindy came to us via our monthly portable monitoring training, which she quickly mastered and now helps teach. She’s a SMU graduate student in Sustainability Design with a BA in Biology and committed to bridging STEAM education and environmental justice.

Her work is focused on building STEAM experiences that foster creativity and confidence to empower all people to create positive social and environmental change.

Cindy is already a central part of our continuing education program, and she’s looking forward to building partnerships with local schools and universities to educate students to address environmental issues within their community.

Beginning this fall we’re taking the portable training that attracted Cindy to our ranks out on the road to teach folks in their own groups and settings. We’re also drafting up a more formal relationship with area colleges for our technology lending library. Cindy will be in the middle of all this. We’re very grateful she’s joined our board and look forward to working with her.

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Increases Predicted in Air Pollution, including 100 more tons of PM a Year

Holcim Cement’s Midlothian cement plant has requested a permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to release an additional 2700 tons per year of Carbon Monoxide and burn 100% Petroleum Coke in its Kiln #2. Holcim estimates these change will set of federally-mandated reviews for increases in emissions of Particulate Matter (PM), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SOx), and Carbon Monoxide (CO).

Notice of the company’s permit amendment was published in the Midlothian Mirror earlier in the month.

Holcim is one of three very large cement plants doing business just south of I-20 in Midlothian in what is the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. The other two are TXI and Ash Grove. These are not batch plants. These are where the batch plants get their product.  With annual air pollution emissions in the thousands of tons, any one of these kilns would easily be the largest “stationary” industrial source of air pollution in North Texas. Combined, they represent a mega source of air pollution for DFW. 

Review of the numbers in the permit application show the company wants to scrap its current limit of a little over 4000 tons a year for Carbon Monoxide and replace it with a higher 7112 ton per year ceiling. In addition, the difference between actual emissions and proposed changes could result in 100 tons more of Particulate Matter, 260 more tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide, and 1700 additional tons of Sulfur Dioxide.

Missing from the permit analysis is the impact of the changes on CO2 climate crisis pollution. Petroleum Coke is nothing but carbon. It releases a lot of CO2 when burned. Burning 100% Petroleum Coke at Holcim will significantly increase this kind of air pollution. Cement plants are already a huge source of CO2 worldwide and Texas leads the country in CO2 pollution.

Overall, it’s the largest requested air pollution increase from any of the three Midlothian kilns in a very long time. And it reveals how badly the snake-bit  20th Century Holcim plant is aging.

Holcim’s current air pollution levels are already way out of sync with the other two, newer cement plants in Midlothian, and the Holcim facility has had a long troubled history with what its owners claim is a problem with the area limestone – the same patch of limestone the other two plants use. Holcim is already releasing 14 times the amount of four major air pollutants compared to Ash Grove’s 2014 renovated plant, and three times the amount of those same pollutants as TXI.  This permit amendment would make the difference even starker.

Clearly Holcim has a problem child cement plant. Since Kiln #1 opened in 1999 it’s never performed to expectation. Because it would otherwise have set off a national non-attainment area for Sulfur Dioxide, Holcim had to add scrubbers to the plant before it even opened. When Kiln #2 was added in 2000, Holcim predicted it would cut pollution in half. Instead it doubled air pollution and by EPA decree the company had to add new pollution controls and buy Downwinders at Risk an independent scientist to monitor their operations.  Now Holcim is saying their longstanding plan to reduce Carbon Monoxide pollution at that second kiln just didn’t work out and they need to increase their CO “permit allowables” by over 2700 tons a year.

Even for a very large cement plant, that’s a significant increase in pollution. CO pollution is a red flag for poor combustion, which is always worrisome when you’re looking at a facility of Holcim’s size that’s burning a flame at 2400 degree flame 24/7/365. Poor combustion at a cement plant burning tires and industrial waste, as Holcim does, or even coal and Petroleum Coke, means the creation of more “Products of Incomplete Combustion,” or “PICs.”

PICs are bad news. Dioxin – the poison in Agent Orange – is a PIC but there are thousands more. Some are extremely toxic. Holcim is already releasing 168 times more CO than the newer Ash Grove plant – located just across Highway 67, and nine times more than former Bad Boy TXI. That’s a lot of potential PICs. Something isn’t right in the basic design of the plant to make it so inefficient, but instead of investing in a new plant, Holcim just wants to increase its pollution levels.

There’s a second part of Holcim’s request that’s even more disturbing.  Besides the increase in CO pollution, Holcim is seeking approval from the State to burn 100% Petroleum Coke as a fuel for its Kiln #2.

Cement kilns need a cheap source of fuel. Since 1960 the Midlothian kilns have burned gas, coal, hazardous waste, tires, used oil, car inards, plastic packaging, and other “industrial wastes” to keep a flame at 2400 degrees F or hotter. But never 100% Petroleum Coke.

Pet Coke is a refinery waste high in BTU value and sulfur content. It’s very dirty. It’s basically solid carbon. In the application submitted by Holcim, the company says Particulate Matter pollution could go up by 100 tons per year. There’s also a very good chance of increases in smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide pollution. Separately there’s also a significant but undocumented increase in CO2 that will occur because of Pet Coke’s composition, so this is a very bad Climate Crisis move as well.

Holcim says not to worry – most of these increases are on paper only and they’re not really changing the emissions, just “refining them.” But with the plant’s history, it’s more likely air pollution will increase, and not by a little bit.

TCEQ’s permit engineer assigned to the Holcim case says this is only a preliminary application and that the company will have to answer more questions about pollution increases, and more importantly will have to stage a “test burn” to see what the impact of burning 100% Pet Coke will actually be (under ideal conditions when everyone is looking over their shoulder). Many long time observers of the modern TCEQ under Governor Greg Abbott are skeptical any of this will happen before Holcim gets their permit however.

Because of the increased volumes of pollutants, this application will be generating an official response from Downwinders requesting at least one public meeting for a briefing on the permit and objecting  to any increase in PM and NOX, insisting on test burns using 100% Pet Coke before the permit is approved, and protesting any increase in Climate Crisis pollution.

There’s two responses you can take right now to oppose Holcim’s permit amendment:

1) You can request a public meeting in Midlothian to have the TCEQ and company brief the public on the permit amendment and have the opportunity to ask questions

CLICK HERE TO SEND AN EMAIL NOW TO THE TCEQ

AND ALL LOCAL STATE REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS

Requests should be addressed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well as local State Representatives and Senators – not just those representing Midlothian.

TCEQ:

By email:

https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/

bbohac@tceq.state.tx.us

By mail:

TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087

 

Texas State Senators

St. Senator Brian Birdwell/Midlothian:      Brian.Birwell@senate.texas.gov,   512-463-0122

St. Senator Royce West/Southern Dallas County:    royce.west@senate.texas.gov    512-463-0123

St. Senator Beverly Powell/ Southern Tarrant County:    beverly.powell@senate.texas.gov    512-463-0110

Texas State Representatives

Rep. John Wray/Midlothian:      john.wray@house.texas.gov     972-938-9392

Rep Yvonne Davis/ Southern Dallas County:       yvonne.davis@house.texas.gov   512-463-0598

Rep. Carl Sherman/Southern Dallas County:   carl.sherman@house.texas.gov       512-463-0953

Rep. Chris Turner/ Southern Tarrant County/Arlington:   Chris.Turner@house.texas.gov   512-463-0574

Contact all of these folks individually, or you can send them and the TCEQ the same email requesting a public meeting on Holcim’s permt via Downwinders’ ClickNSend feature. Leave your own personal message too. 

 

2) Request a Contested Case Hearing

If you feel you’ll be affected by Holcim’s new air pollution, you have a right to ask for a contested case hearing – a formal legal proceeding that sets a higher bar for Holcim to get a permit. In order to request a Contested Case hearing, you must send the TCEQ Chief Clerk:

1) YOUR NAME, or GROUP NAME

2) MAILING ADDRESS AND TEL #

3) APPLICANT’S NAME AND PERMIT #:  Holcim, Air Quality Permit 8996 and PSDTX454M5

4) THIS EXACT STATEMENT: ” I/We request a contested case hearing.”

5) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU WILL BE HARMED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION

6) THE LOCATION OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS AND THE APPROXIMATE DISTANCE TO THE HOLCIM CEMENT PLANT TO THEM.

7) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU USE THE PROPERTY AFFECTED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION (HOME OR BUSINESS OR RECREATIONAL)

8)  A LIST OF DISPUTED ISSUES

Example: 1. Any increase in PM Pollution from Holcim will be harmful to my health and enjoyment of my property,  2. There has been no evaluation of the PM, NOx, SOx, or CO emissions of burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2, 3. There has been no evaluation of the burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2 on  increase in CO2 4. Holcim’s cement plant isn’t applying Best Practices and Best Available Control Technology for emission reductions of PM, CO, NOx, and SOx.

Send your request to the TCEQ’s Chief Clerk:

By email:

https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/

bbohac@tceq.state.tx.us

By mail:

TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087

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Thanks to two industrious board members, Downwinders at Risk has partnered with Dallas Independent School Districts’ Kids University in a six-week summer program to immerse middle school students in citizen science and air quality.

Our “STEAM Ahead” series features approximately fourteen young researchers using Downwinders’ inventory of portable air quality monitors to collect data along DART bus routes in Dallas, analyze that data, and decide what to do about any problems with air quality they discover. Classroom sessions teach about Particulate Matter pollution and its dangers. Class began on June 13th and meets every Thursday until July 25th.

Downwinders at Risk Board Members Cresanda Allen and Misti O’Quin designed the curriculum, gathered all the material, and helped recruit students. Cresanda is a professional teacher and Misti is the Beyond Coal Organizer for DFW. Their goal is to increase knowledge about environmental health & justice issues among middle school youth as well as distributing the scientific tools for evaluating the conditions around them.

This is the first time Downwinders has offered a summer class for youth in its 25-year history. Students will be evaluated at course end and if the pilot program is deemed a success, look for Cresanda and Misti to be back in action in 2020.

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SHINGLE MOUNTAIN FUNDRAISER MAY 30th

by jim on May 13, 2019

Click on image to buy your tickets

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Downwinders at Risk is excited to announce that we won a $20,000 Ben & Jerry’s Foundation grant to help add high-tech, low-cost air quality sensors to our growing community air network powered by the expertise and hardware of the University of Texas at Dallas.

While we applied in the past for these prestigious national grants, this is the first time we’ve received one. It’s kind of a big deal for us.

Our winning grant proposed combined old-fashioned community organizing with the installation and maintenance of new solar-powered, wifi-connected Particulate Matter monitors. Real time information from those monitors will be accessible through a free app you can download on your phone. This information can be used to propel a variety of public health and public policy initiatives.

Depending on how much of a bulk discount we can get, the grant should be able to buy at least 20-30 additional more monitors to add to the 11 we’ve already ordered. Our plan is have all of these up and operating by this time next year.

Dallas’ Joppa neighborhood will get the first wave of these. We’re already finding locations for them in the community. We’re beginning discussion with West Dallas community leaders to bring at least as many or more monitors to that abused part of town as well.

Residential communities adjacent to or directly downwind of major PM pollution sources are the first priority, but we hope to keep expanding to make the network as comprehensive as possible. There are plans to begin assembling a community air network board or committee of some type to oversee the Network. Stay tuned.

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Better Bus Stop Design
Competition Finals

This Saturday May 4th
6 – 9 pm
Better Block Foundation HQ
700 West Davis
Look, Judge, Vote.

Every year the Dallas-based non-profit Better Block Foundation sponsors a design competition that challenges teams of engineers, architects, and creators to come up with more people-friendly ways for city residents to interact in an urban environment.

Downwinders at Risk is one of this year’s contest sponsors because it’s all about building a more people-friendly bus stop that’s also trying to minimize riders’ exposure to street level Particulate Matter pollution (PM.) Better Block was inspired to tackle this problem via its collaboration with Downwinders at Risk back in December on our Electric Glide Pub Crawl. This is a great example of how simply talking more about PM pollution can trigger a cascade of unintended beneficial effects.

Better Block gave 11 teams $250, four hours on their CNC router (basically, a giant printer for wood), and freedom to create whatever they want, as long as it’s a bus stop. Nine teams made 90 second videos on their designs you can see at the bottom of Better Block’s home page. They include a local couple, a Boston collective, Dallas’ own City Lab High School and UTA grads.

On Saturday those teams will actually build their prototypes at Better Block headquarters on West Davis. They’ll have judges determine a winner, but the public can also pick its favorite stop.  Live Music and food trucks on site. Come and see the future while you wait for election returns.

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VOTE!

by jim on May 3, 2019

 

For the first time in its history, Downwinders at Risk is endorsing a candidate for Dallas Mayor. Scott Griggs has been a reliable ally to clean air advocates since he was first elected to the Dallas City Council in 2011. He led the successful fights opposing both the Trinity Toll Road and illegal gas drilling in Dallas parks. He’s the only candidate in the Mayor’s race with a proven track record of working on behalf of the Dallas environment and public health.

We’re listing the Dallas Green Alliance city council endorsements here as a kind of Green voter’s guide for those interested in other Big D races.

Finally, we sent what we think is the first questionnaire to DISD board candidates that focuses on electric buses and public health. Response was underwhelming with only two of nine candidates bothering to answer and we present their answers here. This lack of replies is probably an accurate reflection of the awareness level of the issues within the School District itself. But we’re determined to change that.

In many ways, this May 4th election is as important at themid-terms were last November in changing the balance of power.

Don’t sit it out.

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They had the PowerPoints. They had the hardcopies of the PowerPoints in Spanish. They had the Subject Boards. They had the Post It notes and purple dots. Lots of purple dots. They had staff. They had consultants. They had consultants hired by consultants.

All in all, Dallas City Hall had everything it thought it needed for its very first of six climate plan public engagement meetings…save the public itself.

Of the 23 people in attendance on April 29th at the Beckley Saner Rec Center, only three were members of “the public.” Staff and consultants outnumbered them a good five to six to one with the rest being members of the City Climate Plan’s handpicked “Stakeholders Group.”

And even that group was not a safe bet. One Stakeholder came armed with a flier complaining that the City had made “no promise your voice or ideas will actually be heard” while another wondered why there were being asked to attend. That was a easy question. To help fill seats.

Looks can be deceiving. There were only two members of the public at the first climate plan public meeting. Everyone else in this picture is staff or Stakeholders.

It wasn’t a very auspicious beginning to the public interface phase of the city’s climate plan process. It’ll be interesting to see how much the city gets billed by the professional PR experts to generate less than a Poker game’s worth of participants.

That result prompted a memo which produced wave upon wave of new social media reminders about the great opportunity to attend the next five meetings from everyone at City Hall including, council members, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to DART board members. That push was successful in tripling the size of the April 30th and May 2nd meetings to nine members of the public. But there hasn’t been a meeting yet where the public made-up a majority of those in attendance.

Maybe word got out about the, er, circumscribed nature of the “engagement” meetings. You arrive to find the categories for responses have already been defined by staff on big white boards surrounding the room. There’s “Buildings and Energy,” “Food and Urban Agriculture,” “Parks and Open Spaces,” “Solid Waste,” “The Water We Use,” and “Transportation.”

These follow the format of the online survey the City is pimping.

Missing are topics like “Air Quality,” “Flood Control,” “Zoning” and “Industry.”

Under each of these broad subject titles are exactly six prompted policy options already proposed by staff. Not five, or seven, always six. And they’re far from comprehensive. For example, despite the worldwide wave of electric bus fleet electrification (Paris just ordered 800 e-buses), that policy option is nowhere to be found on the Transportation Board. If you’re aware of that trend you can record a write-in vote for it but it’s not presented to the general public as an obvious climate change policy, which it most certainly is.

Otherwise, your job is to place purple dots by the policy options already outlined for you by City Hall staff.

This is after you get a 30-minute Dallas staff PowerPoint primer on climate change that tells most people showing up for this meeting what they already know. There’s never any opportunity for a back and forth discussion among participants or true brainstorming as a group about local remedies. You watch the PowerPoint, pick among the already chosen policy options on the big boards, or write your own suggestions in, and then….go home. This is the staff’s definition of “public engagement.”

Setting the tone-deaf basis for these public engagement meetings was the much ballyhooed “Town Hall” at this year’s Fair Park’s EarthX event, which was really just one looooong lecture. There you could immerse yourself in 45 minutes of staff talking at you about how great staff and Dallas had been doing so far. Want to ask questions about the process? No time. It was less a “town hall” than a “city closet.”

A good fifth or fourth of the Town Hall audience were Stakeholders already chosen by the city staff to participate in a sort of overview of what’s going on. These are the same Chosen Few who were asked to please show up at the public engagement meetings. There is no public listing of who’s in the group – it’s not there on the City’s website or anywhere else, but it looks to include all the usual suspects we predicted it would plus a few others. There’s also not a meeting schedule for the group or an indication whether the public is allowed to attend.

In fact, the City’s climate plan website is kind of a hot mess, full of 404 error messages and empty white space where details of the process should be housed. A question on the site’s “forum” asking about Stakeholder membership has gone unanswered for 6 days now. It’s “blog” is empty of posts. Like the process itself, it seems mostly for show and to serve as a funnel to take the city’s survey.

Official Stakeholders are sometimes asked to identify themselves in the meetings, but never actually introduce themselves to the public.  They’re supposed to be a combination of business, government, and environmental group representatives but since there’s no listing of them, it’s hard to tell how representative they really are. During their first group meeting, the guy from the Trump EPA reportedly looked around the room and commented how “white the group was.” Not a good sign.

Nor do they seem to have much opportunity for real input. Stakeholders complained at the April 29th meeting that either that they hadn’t been asked to provide suggestions for the City’s survey and meeting format or the ones they’d offered were ignored.

So far, they’ve mostly served the purpose of filling out the very thin public presence at each of the City’s official climate plan events and being a PR backstop for staff to proclaim how inclusive they’re being.

We hate to say we told you so, but we really did.

There are three more city “public engagement” meetings scheduled if you want to assess the process for yourself:

MONDAY, MAY 6

Churchill Rec Center

6906 Churchill Way

6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 7

Audelia Rd Library

10045 Audelia Rd

6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

 

THURSDAY, MAY 9

Eastfield College- Pleasant Grove

802 S. Buckner Rd,

6:00 – 8:00 p.m

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After being rebuffed by its own city council on the idea, Dallas Staff Goes to NCTCOG to promote autocratic regional air monitoring network

You may remember that way back last September members of the Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee approved a independent regional air network as laid out in a 20 minute presentation by the University of Texas at Dallas’s Dr. David Lary and Downwinders’s Director Jim Schermbeck. They approved it 7-0 with even Rickey Callahan voting for it.

Usually when things get voted that favorably out of a Committee, they head straight to the full Council and get approved. But moments after the Committee vote City Staff demanded it not be sent to the full Council until December.

Everyone who knew the backstory of how much the Dallas Office of Environmental Quality and (Rockefeller) Sustainability hated the idea of such a network knew what was really going on. And sure enough, here it is April and there’s still no movement on the one regional network idea officially endorsed by a City Council Committee.

But guess what? Staff isn’t just standing still. No, they’re on the move. They’re not only going out of their way to shoot down the air monitoring network approved by members of their own the city council; they’re going out of their way to ignore the Dallas City Council all together and take their case for a more autocratic, less public network to the North Central Texas Council of Governments, or “COG.”

Not satisfied with allowing the worst environmental justice crisis  since West Dallas to explode into Shingle Mountain during his watch,  OEQ&(R)S’s James McQuire is now out to make sure Dallas residents never get a chance to make decisions about monitoring air quality in their own backyard.

Why? Because as one Dallas staffer put it, “too much participation by the public can be a bad thing.” McQuire and Company want a monitoring network staff can control without citizen participation or accountability, in other words the Status Quo. But of course the status quo has failed spectacularly to address both the region’s old, and new air pollution problems. UTD and Downwinders are proposing a model with heavy doses of public participation and representation.

So last month, McQuire submitted a request to COG to ignore what his own Dallas city council committee had endorsed, and instead start from scratch to build a less-democratic, more staff-driven network that would be run by the same agency that for years denied the Midlothian cement plants had any impact on DFW air quality.  He did this OVER THE OBJECTIONS of Quality of Life Chair Sandy Greyson, who has a healthy skepticism of CO’s abilities to look out for Dallas’ interests.

Like members of the Dallas Citizens Council who to make an end run around the City Council to get their own pet projects funded – see the VisitDallas headquarters slated for the new extension of Kyle Warren Park that is now being pimped by COG’s Director Michael Morris – McQuire is now circumventing his own Council and seeking relief from a “regional” agency that has historically only looked at air quality as an obstacle to highway funding.

So let that soak in – Dallas city staff is intentionally ignoring its elected city council and the only air monitoring approach that council is on record as supporting, and instead now backing its own more autocratic version which has never been voted on by council and in fact was rejected out of hand by council members when asked.

It would take a novel’s worth of history to make the full case of why the COG is a poor choice for any new serious clean air effort in DFW but let’s start with just fundamentals.

COG has never cared about air quality from a public health perspective. Ever. Any work it’s done or is doing now – including promotion of electric vehicles and other anti-smog measures – are aimed at keeping DFW out of “non-attainment status” with the Clean Air Act in order to keep getting precious federal highway money. As long as the dollars keep flowing, COG isn’t interested in taking on other kinds of air pollution besides smog, or doing research into how even routine levels of combustion pollution are harmful, or until this moment, shown any interest in doing the air monitoring other metro areas are now routinely engaged in.

This skewed perspective is reflected in the language of McQuire’s proposal to COG. It’s all about how this air monitoring network could be a boon to transportation planning and oh by the way, maybe be of some public health interest too.

Because it lacks a public health perspective and is run by a cabal of local governments and staff by way of committees    within committees, COG has been every bit as pro-active about bad air as the Dallas OEQ(R)S under McQuire, which is to say not a bit.

Downwinders spent years trying to convince COG leadership that three giant cement plants located in close proximity to each other in Midlothian, upwind of Dallas, and in eyesight of I-20 did in fact contribute to DFW smog. Despite spewing the equivalent of half a million cars worth of air pollution every year and being sited just across the Dallas and Tarrant county lines, the COG folks just didn’t get it – until Downwinders had to petition the EPA to bring those cement plants into DFW’s official smog plan itself. Those cement plants now have to be included in regional anti-smog plants but COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

When COG was writing its anti-smog plans, there were only two sides represented in it regional Clean Air Steering Committee: city staff and business. It took Downwinders to organize a collective boycott of this process until environmental groups were given seats at the table. COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

When fracking came to DFW, COG was as reluctant to point the finger at this huge source of new air pollution as it had been with the Midlothian cement plants. Why? Because local governments were benefactors of the Barnett Shale “boom” in tax revenues and drilling leases. COG steered clear from even acknowledging gas drilling as a significant air pollution problem and aligned with industry to dismiss concerns. It was up to local residents living next to drilling pads and compressor stations to write new rules for everything the drilling boom brought with it. Dallas residents wrote the most protective gas drilling rules in the state. COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

And if it had really been interested in air quality and air quality monitoring, the COG has had years to develop the idea and pursue it. It did not. Instead it was left up to non-profits like Downwinders and UTD to design and build a new approach to air monitoring. For over three years now this effort as been in the works and in fact James McQuire and his staff sat in on the meetings where the UTD model that was endorsed by his own council was drafted. He raised no objections at the time. Instead he waited until after the effort was finished and begin to sabotage it immediately from behind closed doors. Despite his best efforts at scuttling the proposal, the UTD model made it to Greyson’s committee and won a 7-0 vote. COG and Dallas OEQ(R)S didn’t do that. Citizens did.

And so now two of the region’s two most citizen-hostile entities are trying to team up and let COG do for Dallas air quality monitoring what it’s done to Dallas transportation policy – make it top heavy, unresponsive, undemocratic and staff controlled. 

Like Greyson, Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel is four-square against the COG idea and in favor of more public participation. Representing the largest local government entity involved, her opposition may keep McQuire’s effort from taking off despite his best bureaucratic efforts. And there’s also the May elections in Dallas to consider. A new council could have a lot more confidence in overriding staff proposals than the current one. And maybe that accounts for McQuire’s proposal arriving at COG now as well.

What really frustrating is that if McQuire and staff hadn’t begun his campaign to undermine the one approach that was favored by most of the entities involved, the Dallas city council would have already approved the UTD plan and we’d be on our way to building a truly independent monitoring network. Until Dallas staff objected last fall, there was a consensus about how to proceed. He’s single-handedly gutted that consensus, stifled all progress, and kept DFW way behind the air monitoring curve.

We’ll keep you up to date on how far this COG proposal gets, but Downwinders in Denton, Plano and Fort Worth should be on alert that McQuire is trying to get those cities on board with the COG approach as well.  Please contact your most citizen-friendly council members and ask them not to support, what is in essence a staff coup in Dallas.

In the meantime, here’s one more question you can pose to Dallas council candidates this election season:  “Do you support staff’s attempt to override the will of the council and impose a less public -friendly COG-run air monitoring network on Dallas, or the homegrown version proposed by UTD that’s already received a 7-0 vote?”

If this is going to get done right, citizens will have to do it.

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After a year of excuses, a determined group of women and their supporters shamed the City into finally taking action to close down the worst environmental health and justice crisis in Dallas.

When the collapse came, it came quickly.

Halfway through their Wednesday March 20th news conference giving authorities an ultimatum to shut down “Shingle Mountain” or face protests and possible civil disobedience, members of the freshly minted Southern Sector Rising Campaign for Environmental Justice learned the City of Dallas was reversing course and moving to close Blue Star’s year-old asphalt hell.

Only a week before, the official party line from City Hall was that the self-described “recycler” had all the permits it needed. Staff said critics’ description of Blue Star’s operation as an illegal dumping ground was wrong. It had “a right to be there.”

Now, on Wednesday….well, now circumstances had changed. The political circumstances that is.

Now there was a new coalition of frustrated Southern Dallas residents and Old School Icons like Peter Johnson, Luis Sepulveda and John Fullenwider staging an emotionally-charged news conference with chants of “Shame on Dallas” ringing loudly up and down the corridors of City Hall. Now there was a publicly-leaked report with incriminating evidence of official wrongdoing. Now there were swarms of cameras and reporters hanging on the every word of a middle-aged, middle-class, horse-loving DART employee who had been ignored for such a long time.

Three Generations of Dallas Environmental Justice Advocates: John Fullenwider, Luis Sepulveda and Marsha Jackson

Led by Marsha Jackson and her Choate Steet neighbors, Temeckia Durrough and Miriam Fields of the Joppa Freedman Town Association and Olinka Green from the Highland Hills Community Action Committee, with Stephanie Timko as media czarina, the Southern Sector Rising Campaign for Environmental Justice did more than just win a huge victory for an much-abused part of Dallas.  It gave Southern Dallas residents a new model for effectively changing their circumstances.

An ad-hoc group that hadn’t even existed in February had the temerity to put City Hall on trial in its own lobby for Big D’s most spectacular municipal act of environmental racism in years. And it wasn’t even a fair fight.

An eye-opening state inspector’s report Downwinders sent to reporters a few days before the news conference officially documented permit violations and red flags too large to defend. Although Blue Star had promised the state in April 2018 it wouldn’t store more than 260 tons of waste at its site, it was already storing 60,000 tons in December. Blue Star was supposed to have a Fire Protection Plan. It didn’t. Blue Star was supposed to have adequate funds to close and clean up its site. It didn’t. Blue Star was supposed to randomly test incoming loads of shingles for asbestos. It didn’t.

This is how bad it was: Blue Star’s mocking of the law was too much even for Gregg Abbott’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Or the City of Dallas.

So long before the last speaker spoke in the Flag Room, news came that the City had pulled the Certificate of Occupancy for the largest of the two Blue Star tracts, something it had previously said wasn’t possible. Then it announced it was taking the company to court the next day to get an emergency Temporary Restraining Order to close Blue Star down.

That City staff could so shamelessly pull off such a dramatic flip flop over a matter of a few hours is testimony to both the fury fueling the Campaign, and the overwhelming evidence that Blue Star and its government enablers had allowed a full-blown illegal dump to grow… and grow…and grow. The only thing missing from the turnaround was an apology and acknowledgement to the women that had forced City Hall’s hand.

In Thursday’s hearing on the Restraining Order, the City of Dallas cited a number of missing municipal and state permits it now said Blue Star needed, including a Special Use Permit, an air quality permit, and a permit for storage in the flood plain – none of which the City had demanded when Blue Star had opened for business a year earlier. Despite the lack of these permits the City was now saying were essential, it had kept telling reporters, Council Members, and residents alike that Blue Star was a legal business right up until the time of the news conference.

It wasn’t. Ever. But it took a group of frustrated Southern Dallas residents to expose that lie.

Of course in the hearing itself the heretofore lack of official city concern about these lacking permits was perturbing in the extreme for the attorney representing Blue Star, who said City Hall had already signed-off on its operations.

“The City told my client there were NO air quality problems, he protested to the judge. That was undoubtedly a true statement. But that conclusion was rendered before a brigade of angry residents showed up at City Hall demanding Dallas enforce the law.

Now, presto-chango, the City was emerging out of its dilapidated telephone booth with its moldy Toxic Avenger costume on and finding plenty of air quality problems, albeit in a anecdotal, non-quantifiable, way.

Because despite being “very concerned” about air pollution from Blue Star, the City of Dallas never monitored air quality from the facility before it got to court. Neither did the state. Only Downwinders at Risk, plugging-in one of our own portable PM monitors on the top of Marsha Jackson’s window unit for days at a time, captured any credible scientific evidence of air pollution harms.

Those results were released at the March 20th news conference and showed levels of Particulate Matter pollution that UNT’s Dr. Tate Barrett concluded “poses a significant health risk to the residents.”

But in court, the City didn’t even mention those EPA-calibrated results. 

For the first time in memory it was the regulators using only their senses to call for a crackdown – what they saw and heard and smelled at Blue Star’s site – and citizens showing up with Real Science.

Lacking any monitoring data of their own, Dallas city attorneys sounded like countless over-matched  and overwhelmed residents from past TCEQ hearings, pleading with the judge to accept their word that the air pollution was so darn obvious…if not directly quantifiable because, well, no, we didn’t actually do any monitoring. We don’t know how to do that.

A layer of asphalt dust coated a Downwinders air quality monitor while it was recording levels of PM pollution at Marsha Jackson’s house in early March

This lack of any data to back up its air pollution claims was one of the most embarrassing parts of the hearing for the City. One wonders when James McQuire and his Office Of Environmental Quality & (Rockefeller) Sustainability’s stubborn refusal to buy its own air monitors will eventually cost the City (and its residents) in court.

But every time the City’s case looked in trouble, Blue Star’s attorney dug a deeper hole. He wanted the judge to know “shingles make really good fill” and that the spring-fed creek that ran through the company’s site was merely “a drainage ditch” and asking, after all judge, what is the true and right definition of “combustible” under Texas law?

Judge: “It means catch fire.”

Everyone but the Blue Star attorney chuckled.

After 45 minutes, Judge Gina Slaughter had heard enough and ruled in favor of the Restraining order. It took effect March 22nd and runs until Midnight on April 3rd.

Before that happens, an 11 am Wednesday morning hearing will be held in the same courtroom to decide whether to extend the Temporary Order into a more permanent one. Word is that Blue Star was caught doing business during the last week when it wasn’t supposed to be on site at all. If true, it seems unlikely Blue Star will be granted a reprieve, despite the optimism displayed on the company’s website. We fully expect to be open on Thursday April 4th, 2019″ it proclaims.

Not if Marsha Jackson, her friends in the Southern Sector Rising Campaign, and now their reluctant ally, The City of Dallas, get their way.

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Dallas Goes After Shingle M… by on Scribd

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12 Noon, Wednesday March 20th

Dallas City Hall      Flag Room     6th Floor

 

JOIN US FOR THE PUBLIC LAUNCH OF THE

 

SOUTHERN SECTOR RISING

 CAMPAIGN FOR

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

 

Downwinders at Risk has joined with the the Joppa Freedman’s Association, Neighbors United/Vecino Unidos, the Highland Hills Community Action Committee, Sierra Club/BeyondCoal, Pax Christi Dallas, and other Dallas groups in initiating a campaign aimed at uniting residents who live along and south of the Trinity River, and their allies to say “enough is enough.”

The Southern Sector Rising Campaign for Environmental Justice seeks to end decades of racist zoning forcing industrial polluters into predominantly Black and Brown residential neighborhoods and more equitably distribute Dallas’ pollution burdens.

The Campaign’s First Target


SHINGLE MOUNTAIN


The most serious on-going environmental justice crisis in Dallas –
The Blue Star asphalt shingle sham recycling operation,
aka, “Shingle Mountain” aka “the Asphalt Alps.

 

What makes this situation such a crisis?

Volume – thousands of tons of waste are accumulating with new loads arriving daily. The mountain is now4-5 stories tall.

Proximity fine dust spewed and stored across the backyard fences of families with kids

Toxicity Asphalt shingle waste is chock full of carcinogens

Help us apply more public pressure.

 

The Campaign’s First Action:



Public Launch @ DALLAS CITY HALL

 

WEDNESDAY MARCH 20th

12 NOON

FLAG ROOM 6th FLOOR

 

JOIN US AS WE PROPOSE A PRO-ACTIVE
DALLAS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AGENDA

On March 20th, campaign representatives will be announcing a variety of tactics the campaign will be using to win the closure of Blue Star.  But they’ll also be announcing four other goals that can help all Southern Sector:

1.     The City of Dallas must immediately close the Blue Star Asphalt operation and begin to clean up the mess the company has created along the South Central corridor.

2.      The City must include an equity provision in the City’s new Economic Development Policy prohibiting concentrations of polluters/pollution in the same neighborhoods.

3.      The City must pass a moratorium on any new Industrial permits south of the Trinity River until that new industrial equity policy is in place.

4.     The City must restore the City’s Environmental Health Commission to allow for a more resident-friendly process for hearing environmental nuisance and health problems.

5.   The City must create a Joppa Environmental Preservation District prohibiting any new industrial permits in that historic Dallas Freedman’s community, phasing-out of existing industrial zoning there, and better protecting residents from pollution exposure.

March 20th’s launch at City Hall will begin with a video by local filmmaker Rick Baraff examining the personal toll Blue Star’s operations have had on the families who live around it. We’ll hear from Marsha Jackson, Biance Morales and members of her family as well as some very special guests.

It’s expected that at least one lawsuit, and maybe others, will be announced on March 20th on behalf of Ms. Jackson and the Morales’.

Campaign representatives will also be submitting language for specific ordinances the Dallas City Council to pass to implement the five campaign goals, announcing weekly pickets and a warning to the City that if Blue Star isn’t shut down by Earth Day, Monday April 22nd, we’ll be attempting to blockade new trucks of shingles from being dumped.

 

The Campaign’s First Protest



Picket Line at the front gate of Blue Star

 

12 noon to 2 pm, Saturday March 23rd
9527 S. CENTRAL EXPRESSWAY

VOTE WITH YOUR FEET TO HELP THIS NEIGHBORHOOD
IN ITS TIME OF CRISIS

This first protest at Blue Star will reflect Ms. Marsha Jackson’s deep ties to the Southern Dallas trail riding community. We’ll have a check-in tent with water, Rules of the Road and the latest information.  We can supply some signs and help you create your own. The important thing is to show-up and support the effort to clean-up this horrible mess and the messes that decades of racist zoning have produced all over the Southern Sector.

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