First Year Result of State’s New Clean Air Plan? DFW Smog Gets Worse

by jim on August 28, 2015

5-reasons-smog-is-good-for-you-TCEQYesterday's smog wasn't the worst DFW has seen in 2015, but it was bad enough to make sure the first year of the State's proposed clean air plan for the area concludes with worse smog than when it started. Denton's running smog average inched up from 81 parts per billion in 2014 to 82 ppb at about 9 pm last night, with a month of hardcore ozone season left. 

This is the second time DFW's smog average has increased in the last four years.  The last time it happened was in the middle of implementing a state clean air plan that imposed no new controls on any large polluters. This time it happened just as another such plan was being submitted to EPA for approval.

There has been a lot of crowing from Austin and industry about how much DFW ozone levels decreased last year. But most of that was weather-related. It was unusually wet and cool. As a result, in 2014, there were only two (out of 20 ) DFW monitors that had official ozone violations of 75 ppb or above. This year, and especially this August, has been a bit more normal. There are already nine monitors that have registered violations of 75 or above.

Moreover, DFW's running three-year smog average, or what the EPA calls the Design Value, is the worst in the state now, surpassing Houston despite both metro areas having bad ozone seasons this year. As of today, its 82 ppb average means Denton holds the dubious honor of hosting the ozone monitor with the state's highest Design Value. The second worst is the Ft. Worth Nortwestern (Meachum Field) monitor, tied with a monitor in Houston. These facts lend credence to clean air advocates' claims that last year's low smog levels were an anomoly and not the beginning of a new trend.

Thanks to a federal court case back in December, the official deadline for meeting or exceeding the current 75 parts per billion ozone standard at all 20 DFW monitors is now 2017, instead of 2018. That means this year's bad numbers will be used with those in 2016 and 2017 in averaging a new Design Value and declaring the success or failure of the state's clean air plan by September of 2017.

Because of the last three or four weeks of bad air, the gap between where we are (82ppb) and that 75 ppb goal is wider. As of now, the next two summers have to be as cool and wet as 2014 to even have a chance of decreasing ozone by the 7 ppb or more needed to get down to the legal limit.

And – of course that legal limit is going to be revised in October when EPA decides what the new national ozone standard will be, probably somewhere between 65 and 70 ppb.

So….let's review. Air quality in DFW is worse this year than last. We're starting from further behind than we were at the beginning of summer. The state has turned in a new clean air plan to EPA that once again doesn't require any new controls on any major polluters – kilns, coal plants or natural gas, even though we need deep decreases in smog pollution to get safe and legal air by the new federal deadline.

That's why we need the EPA to take the job of drafting a new clean air plan out of the hands of a state agency unwilling to enforce the law and do it themselves via a Federal Implementation Plan, or FIP. Until the grown-ups are in charge, DFW will never see a clean air deadline met.

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