The State’s “Do-Nothing” DFW Air Plan is Falling Apart. Here’s Our Chance to Have a Real One.

by Downwinders on June 21, 2015

House of cards 1For the second time in five years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality thought it had gamed the system. It believed it could get away with another DFW "clean air plan" that didn't actually do anything. It looks like it was wrong.

A series of events playing out since December of last year has seemingly laid waste to the state's intent to get approval from EPA for its "State Implementation Plan" (SIP) for DFW smog that didn't touch the major sources of air pollution in North Texas. As a result, citizens have an opportunity for the first time since 2011 to get a real clean air plan – but only if we organize and focus on demanding EPA do its job.

Stick with us here. It's kind of a long trip, full of regulatory jargon and jousting, but the destination is worth it.

Because of what seems like an intractable disagreement between the state and EPA over the content of the state's proposed 2015 air plan for DFW, citizens have a chance to press for the real thing – a federal plan, drafted and implemented by EPA – that could finally bring deep cuts to major sources of pollution like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas Coal Plants, and the oil and gas industry.

If that sounds like an attractive option to you, there are two things you can do right now to make it more likely:

1) Sign the petition for a Federal Plan at Change.org

2) Send a letter to both the Regional EPA Director Ron Curry and the National EPA administrator Gina McCarthy through our Click N' Send automatic e-mail system. There's prepared language already there and you can add your own if you want.

 

In the last six months the fate of the state's plan has been radically altered. Among the most dramatic changes:

1) Only days before Christmas, a federal court ruling pushed back the deadline for DFW to meet the current 75 parts per billion ozone/smog standard from 2018 to 2017. Despite knowing about the court decision, until very recently the state kept aiming its plan at 2018. It hadn't made changes to its computer modeling to adjust to a 2017 goal. Now there's a real question as to whether it can submit all the data EPA requires by a July 20th deadline to turn it in for review. If the state doesn't get all the information in, EPA must rule that the plan is "incomplete." As of right now, a month before it's due, that's the conclusion EPA would have to reach.

2) Official EPA comments on the state's plan are highly critical of it, echoing many of the same assessments raised by citizens in the January Arlington City Hall hearing, and written comments submitted by Downwinders and the Sierra Club. For example,

 – The inadequacy of the state's plan and need for more pollution reductions: "…it is difficult to see how the area would reach attainment in 2018….The fact that the attainment year will likely be 2017 makes the chance of attainment smaller…The recent court decision…makes it less clear that the area will attain the standard by 2017 without additional reductions…we believe it is likely that additional reductions will need to be included to demonstrate attainment.”

– The quality of the state's computer modeling, which drives the entire plan: "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”….the episode overall is not fully representative of the most difficult ozone scenarios. In addition, while current ozone trends and the model predictions support that ozone levels will continue to improve, it is not clear to EPA that these trends are sufficient for the area to attain by 2018.”

– More cuts are needed from the Midlothian cement kilns: "…the TCEQ estimates that reducing the source cap for the kilns in Ellis County would not provide significant emission reductions for the DFW area. However, a reduction in the source cap…does appear significant...TCEQ’s rules need to be reevaluated to insure…the emission limits reflect a Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) level of control as required by the Clean Air Act….We can no longer conclude the emission limit that is in place reflects a RACT level of control…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.”

 – More cuts are needed from the East Texas coal plants: “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."

What is that discussion in TCEQ's Appendix D? It's this incriminating admission: "…efforts focused solely on controlling local emissions may be insufficient to bring the DFW area into ozone attainment …."

– Link between oil and gas sources and higher ozone levels:  "These monitors (Eagle Mtn. Lake, Denton, and Parker County) 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…."

"We have some concern that as well pressure diminishes that natural gas fired engines driving natural gas compressors may be utilized more than the current usage per production amount. This may result in the projected NOx emissions not dropping as much as projected. The same volume of gas being produced with less well head pressure flow could need more overall actual compression to get to market. This situation could result in more NOx emissions than estimated based on the current emissions/production level relationship."

3) EPA requests for information from TCEQ leave no doubt that EPA wants more pollution cuts in the plan and that without those cuts, the plan is in deep trouble. Examples:

– “Please provide the estimated amount of emission reductions (in tons per day) that would reduce ozone values at the monitors by 1 ppb…please include the estimated emissions reductions associated with each of the (control) measures."

 – “An evaluation…for cement kilns in Ellis County is needed that reflects the level of control that can reasonably be achieved and new limits to reflect the reasonable level of control.”

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

– “The updated modeling results provided in early January by TCEQ indicate one monitor at 76 ppb in 2018 using the new DRAFT guidance and existing guidance methods indicate 77 ppb at Denton and 76 ppb at Eagle Mtn. Lake and Grapevine. We note that these numbers will most likely go up some with an attainment demonstration based on 2017. We request that TCEQ supplement their analysis as needed to show that the area will attain by 2017.”

All of those EPA comments and requests were made way back in early February. The state only got around to responding to them on June 3rd. With the July 20th deadline for final submission of a DFW air plan to EPA rapidly approaching, this is TCEQ's June 3rd answer:

"It was not possible to complete all work necessary for this DFW Attainment Demonstration SIP revision to demonstrate attainment in 2017. The DFW AD SIP revision also commits to develop a new Attainment Demonstration  SIP revision for the DFW 2008 eight-hour ozone non-attainment area as long as 2017 remains the attainment year. The new DFW Attainment Demonstration SIP revision would include the following analyses to reflect the 2017 attainment year: a modeled Attainment Demonstration, a reasonably available control measures (RACM) analysis….."

Rhetorically, TCEQ seems to be committing to submitting a new plan or parts of a new plan to EPA by July 20th, but it's very unclear how much, if any a "new" TCEQ DFW air plan will differ from the current one. The modeling for 2018 took Austin over a year to finish and there are serious doubts about whether the state can condense that process into less than two months to churn out entirely new results for 2017.

Moreover, the state knows what it will find if it does accomplish that feat: higher ozone levels.

At its most basic, the TCEQ plan for 2018 attainment with the 75 parts per billion standard relied exclusively on federal changes in the chemical make-up of gasoline that will reduce its sulfur content, due to hit the marketplace in January 2017. Before the December court ruling, that meant a whole two summers for that fuel change to reduce the pollution from cars without the state lifting a finger to cut pollution from industrial sources like the cement kilns, coal plants, or gas industry.

Now, however, with the attainment date moved up by a year, it means only one year of impact from that fuel change. It means that instead of averaging the 4th highest ozone readings from 2016, 2017, and 2018 for the required rolling three- year average that determines success or failure, it will be this year, 2016 and 2017. Two out those three years will not see the benefit of that federal fuel change on the marketplace, resulting in a higher number than the state was counting on before. Will the state want to put that new number on paper? Because when/if it does, it's Exhibit A for the need for new pollution cuts the state will have to impose. And it really doesn't want to do that.

TCEQ could ignore the July 20th deadline while it works on updating its modeling for the 2017 deadline. Officially, EPA has up to six months (until January 20th, 2016) to decide the state's plan is "incomplete." It could be that EPA accepts a tardy TCEQ 2017 computer model while the state scrambles to come up with its next ridiculous theory to propose in lieu of real cuts from major polluters.

But just pushing back the computer modeling to 2017 wouldn't solve all of the state's problems. For one thing, the gap between projected ozone levels and the goal of 75 ppb will be wider because we're looking at 2017, not 2018. They'll be more ozone that needs reducing. How do you do that?  EPA could also find a new state approach inadequate in the same ways it's shooting down the current "do-nothing plan" if it doesn't analyze the impacts of cuts from major polluters. EPA seems to be boxing-in the TCEQ to either admit the need for more real reductions from major sources, or face being "incomplete."

Secondly, and based on TCEQ's June 3rd response to EPA, seemingly even more awkward, is the EPA's request for the state to perform a new review of control measures and their impacts on DFW smog levels. You can't get any more explicit in EPAese than "Failure to conduct a thorough Reasonably Available Control Technology analysis for cement kilns which would include appropriate emission limits would prevent us from approving the RACT portion of the attainment plan submittal.”

As some of us have been saying from the start, TCEQ ignored the fact that there are off-the-shelf controls to get 90% smog pollution reductions from cement kilns and coal plants, controls being used or implemented on kilns and coal plants right now, as well as a long history of electrification of gas compressors in areas of the US with air quality problems.

In its comments and information requests EPA is very specifically requesting drastic, fundamental revisions in the state's analysis, not just in regard to the cement kilns, but also the East Texas coal plants and any other control measure that can get you a 1 part per billion or better improvement in DFW smog levels.

This is something the state is loathe to do. It hasn't done this kind of "sensitivity" analysis in almost a decade. In it's June 3rd comments, it's very clear that the TCEQ is still not finding any reason to revise its opinion that no new control measures on any major sources are needed, and so no such analysis is warranted. "The TCEQ disagrees that the existing cement kiln rules no longer satisfy RACT….and …"the TCEQ has determined that imposing additional controls on these attainment county EGUs (coal plants) is not justified.”

So even though the state says it will work on submitting a new plan aimed at 2017, it's digging in its heels and also saying it's not going to revisit these potential control measures as ways to reach attainment as EPA is requesting. As a result, it's unlikely the state will provide answers to the EPA's many questions about what impacts different controls have on future DFW smog levels.

(If only there was some way to provide those answers to EPA using the TCEQ's own modeling. If only someone had made a copy of the TCEQ model and then run all those "what if" scenarios that the state won't perform.)

On one side is EPA saying the state needs to dramatically revamp its air plan for DFW. On the other is TCEQ saying that it won't do everything the EPA is asking. 

What happens if the state won't give in? TCEQ outlines the possibilities in its June 3rd response:

“TCEQ: What are the consequences if this SIP revision does not go forward? Are there alternatives to this SIP revision? The commission could choose to not comply with requirements to develop and submit this DFW Attainment Demonstration SIP revision to the EPA. If the DFW SIP revision is not submitted by July 20, 2015, the EPA could impose sanctions on the state and promulgate a federal implementation plan (FIP). Sanctions could include transportation funding restrictions, grant withholdings, and 200% emissions offsets requirements for new construction and major modifications of stationary sources in the DFW non-attainment area. The EPA could impose such sanctions and implement a FIP until the state submitted and the EPA approved a replacement DFW 2008 eight-hour ozone AD SIP revision for the area.”

And that folks, is what citizens need – a serious FEDERAL Implementation Plan that puts the responsibility for getting cleaner air in the hands of the adults for a change. That's what we all should be asking the EPA to implement.

Waiting for the state of Texas to draft and implement a sincere clean air plan for DFW is the political equivalent of waiting for Godot. Remember the last time the state drafted a DFW air plan in 2011, also exempting major polluters from cuts, it actually raised ozone levels in DFW. After five attempts over 20 years, the state has never met a federal smog clean-up deadline.

Whether you're concerned about pollution from the cement plants, the coal plants, or gas compressors, or just don't want to see the air you're breathing anymore, this is a strategy that can get you real reductions and cleaner air. This is a campaign that can unite a lot of different local groups and causes under one banner.

It's a two step process. First we have to convince the EPA to find the state's plan "incomplete." As you can tell from the EPA's own language, that might not be that hard. But this judgment needs to happen as quickly as it can after July 20th in order to move on to the second decision EPA must make  – to formally reject the TCEQ plan, that is, "disapprove" it. On paper, EPA has up to a year to make that decision. Our job is to convince them to do it asap so we can really get down to business.

A formal disapproval will result in the EPA beginning to write a Federal Implementation Plan of its own. Once this process begins the EPA has more of an upper hand. Even if the state panics and submits a new plan of its own, it will have to follow the outlines of what EPA is already proposing. The state has two choices – do it under their own name, or let the EPA carry it out.

Having suffered almost a decade under unprecedented state neglect, DFW air quality is the best example in the US of the need of a federal takeover.

What Texas is doing to subvert the letter and spirit of the Clean Air Act is no different than what southern states did to subvert civil rights legislation in the 1960's. The response from the federal government should be the same now as it was then. If the state won't enforce the law of the land, citizens need the feds to do it for them.

There are two things you can do right now to help this effort, both from the comfort of your own computer screen:

1) Sign the petition for a Federal Plan at Change.org

2) Send a letter to both the Regional EPA Director Ron Curry and the National EPA administrator Gina McCarthy through our Click N' Send automatic e-mail system. There's prepared language already there and you can add your own if you want.

We need lots of people to begin doing this. Not dozens. Not hundreds. But thousands.

Think about everyone who uses an inhaler in DFW, who knows a family member or friend who suffers respiratory problems. Send this appeal out far and wide. 

This is our chance to finally get some progress. We need your help. Thanks.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kim Feil June 23, 2015 at 12:45 am

But high ozone is connected to prenatal deaths and we have a burgeoning out of control populus …problem solved in the TCEQ do nothing approach…those opposed to abortion should be thankful we have a back up abortion plan….breathe during your pregnancy in the DFW area….if you haven't caught my sarcasm read the Rolling Stones report..http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/fracking-whats-killing-the-babies-of-vernal-utah-20150622?page=12

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