The so-called “budget crisis” in Austin this last legislative session gave industry and their favorite presidential candidate the opportunity to slash the budget of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. One thing they cut were the programs that offer incentives to get your older, dirtier car fixed or buy a new cleaner one. You may recall that the idea of “fleet turnover” among DFW residents was the one and only way TCEQ was suggesting North Texas could escape its chronic smog problem. That’s worked so well this summer that we’re seeing the worst ozone levels since 2006. But the point is that it’s the very strategy the TCEQ is promoting in DFW as a clean air solution has gotten gutted in Austin. So even if you were a true believer in TCEQ’s fleet turnover shell game, you’d be hard-pressed to defend the efficacy of that approach now that it’s been mortally wounded in the budget process. All they have now is a big box of nothing.

A profile of a Florida Cemex plant reveals the fluidity of current fuel mixes finding their way to your local neighborhood kiln. The entire industry is in flux as a result of new EPA emission rules, concern about greenhouse gases, and the costs of coal in a poor economy. That’s opened up possibilities that just weren’t there even five years ago. In this case, the good news is that agricultural waste such as peanut shells and wood chips are being taken seriously. The bad news is that the plant is still burning tires and tire “fluff” – the polyester part of what you roll on –  and trying to equate those hazardous “non-hazardous”  wastes with with the biofuels that could really improve air quality. We’re seeing the same thing here in North Texas with TXI’s new proposed “Landfill in the Sky” permit that could have the Midlothian plant burning everything from Switchgrass and Wheat Straw (Good) to plastic trash and car “fluff” – all the non-steel parts of a car ground up into piles that are thrown into the kiln (Bad). Because of the uncertainty surrounding where all this is going in light of new EPA definitions of “solid wastes” and “recycling,” now is a good time for citizens to intervene in local permit fights and state and federal policy decisions in order to direct that chaos in a direction that benefits public health. In this case “crisis” really does translate into “danger” and “opportunity.”

 

Because of the relative abundance of cheap land, most Western states have not seen the kind of garbage-incinerator building spree a lot of the East Coat and Mid-West has experienced over the last 30 or so years. We still landfill our trash in Texas for the most part. In their sales pitches, garbage burners are often touted as "renewable energy," and/or "recycling" – just like TXI's burning of hazardous waste was labeled "recycling." What really happens is that other people poisons get recycled into your lungs. Now theEnvironmental Integrity Project has the audacity to actually compare emissions from garbage burners in Maryland to the state's four coal-fired utility plants, and gosh, those incinerators don't look so green anymore. They generated up to five times more mercury and up to 18 times more lead than all four coal-fired plants between 2007 and 2009. The punchline? Maryland wants to double its trash-burning capacity over the next decade. 

 EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has a young son with asthma. That’s one of the reasons she was such a passionate advocate for new, lower, tougher standards for ambient ozone pollution, or smog, before the rug got pulled out from under her by the President and his campaign advisers last month. In a newly released report that would have served as a preamble to a new 70 parts per billion (ppb) ozone standard in the Federal Register, Jackson and the EPA had formally concluded that the existing standard of 75 ppb endangered thousands of Americans, including people with existing respiratory ailments like her son. The Bush-era limit on ozone was “not adequate to protect public health,” and failed to take into account “newly available evidence,” according to the original EPA language. Such a report will be fodder for the new lawsuit filed by five environmental groups this week, which claims that the Administration’s retreat from Jackson’s recommendation was politically driven and not based on the best science. Meanwhile, because of the 2-year delay in setting a standard, chronic smog hotspots like DFW must now wait until close to the end of the decade to have any hope of getting safe and legal air to breathe.

 

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has a young son with asthma. That's one of the reasons she was such a passionate advocate for new, lower, tougher standards for ambient ozone pollution, or smog, before the rug got pulled out from under her by the President and his campaign advisers last month. In a newly released report that would have served as a preamble to a new 70 parts per billion (ppb) ozone standard in the Federal Register, Jackson and the EPA had formally concluded that the existing standard of 75 ppb endangered thousands of Americans, including people with existing respiratory ailments like her son. The Bush-era limit on ozone was “not adequate to protect public health,” and failed to take into account "newly available evidence," according to the original EPA language. Such a report will be fodder for the new lawsuitfiled by five environmental groups this week, which claims that the Administration's retreat from Jackson's recommendation was politically driven and not based on the best science. Meanwhile, because of the 2-year delay in setting a standard, chronic smog hotspots like DFW must now wait until close to the end of the decade to have any hope of getting safe and legal air to breathe.

TXI’s giant cement plant in Midlothian is seeking permission to burn a long list of so-called “non-hazardous” wastes, including a substance called ASR – Auto Shredder Residue. This waste, also called auto fluff, is composed of all the non-steel parts of a car or truck. The plastic and foam dashboard that turns into dioxin when it’s burned. The switches and dials, some of which still have mercury and PCBs in them. The asbestos-coated brakes. All of it gets thrown into a giant grinder that turns an Accord into a pile of little quarter size chunks in minutes. One of the objections to burning this kind of waste is that it’s really a hazardous waste. A recent enforcement action in California against an Auto Shredder confirms these fears. It was caught sending wastes full of dangerous levels of lead and cadmium to a non-hazardous waste landfill. At least there it can be dug up and reburied at a haz-waste landfill. You can’t un-burn that kind of mistake at a cement plant.

Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed citizens to uncover government agency mistakes. Yesterday, a handful of Frisco residents met with EPA Region 6 staff about their local Superfund Site-in-progress known as the Exide lead smelter. The list of subjects to discuss was long and varied. Lead-paved streets, lead-lined creeks, lead contaminated waste water treatment plants, illegal landfilling of hazardous waste, modern pollution controls and the boundaries of the current two square-mile non-attainment area for lead in the middle of downtown Frisco. It was a productive meeting, with some new information coming to light, including the fact that those boundaries lines are not based on good science and need to be redrawn.  

In 1995, a Midlothian tire disposal company that collected, stored and shipped used tires for the near-by cement plants to burn in their kilns caught fire itself and burned for almost a month. It was located right across the street from the TXI plant. Black, toxic smoke wafted between high rise office buildings in Downtown Dallas for days. At the time, the fire was particularly and painfully ironic for Downwinders at Risk supporters who had been trying to tell people why burning tires in cement plants is a bad idea, as well as how Dallas air      could be affected by pollution from the cement plants despite the state saying they were too far away. Now, here in plain sight from Reunion Tower, columns of carbon black smoke thousands of feet high originating less than 2000 feet from TXI gave lie to the official assurances that the cement plant was too distant to affect DFW air quality, or that miniatures versions of this fire was supposed to be effective “recycling” of tire wastes. Oh yeah, the name of the tire disposal company? “Safe Tire.” 

 Jan Jarvis plays the Star-Telegram’s environmental reporter-for-the-day role and chronicles the updated inventorying of North Texas asthma rates as reported by the Cook Childrens Hospital’s Children’s Health Assessment and Planning Survey, or CHAPS.  Two years ago Downwinders was specifically invited to a presentation on the asthma data, because of a certain graphic that mapped where the worst rates of children’s asthma were in North Texas. It looked suspiciously like a graphic we’d been showing for years based on where the predominant winds push the pollution from the Midlothian cement plants. We report, you decide.  We’re Having a Really (REALLY) Bad Air Day