Only an hour after a public plea to EPA by local residents to rescue them from the state's laissez-faire enforcement of environmental laws, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proved the protesters' point at last Friday's regional air quality meeting by announcing a bigger gap between the current federal smog standard and the Commission's anti-smog plan supposedly designed to meet that standard in DFW.
The goal is to average 75 parts per billion (ppb) or less of ozone in the air over any single eight hour period at all 20 DFW monitors by 2017, per a court order that rolled the deadline back from 2018. DFW is at 83 ppb now. TCEQ announced its latest estimates have DFW clocking-in a best case scenario of 77.8 parts per billion by the end of 2017.
But don't worry, because TCEQ says that's still "close enough" to 75 to count as a bulls-eye.
One wonders what would happen if this kind of precision was practiced in other critical fields. Your surgeon mistakes your Thoracic Aorta for the Abdominal Aorta? Understandable, they both start with "A." Bank statement off by a decimal point or two? Surely not enough of a change to worry about.
And is a jump of almost two parts per billion in regional smog over the last estimate any reason for perhaps considering new smog controls for major sources of pollution, like, say, cement plants, coal plants, or oil and gas sources? Nope, says TCEQ. No need to inconvenience those industries because of some little ol' public health harms that we as a state agency have been trying to downplay and deny for years now.
"2 to 3 parts per billion here, 2 to 3 parts per billion there – what's the difference" TCEQ asks? "We'll throw in things the EPA can't possibly quantify – like 'sustainable building' and 'bicycle paths' and Viola! we'll get down to "77" ppb in two years with no problems…somehow. That's within the margin of error – that we always blow past. We've always relied on this tried and true approach of aiming low and
we've had great success so far, we're 0 for 5 in reaching attainment on time over the last two decades."
Co-facilitating this charade to some extent is EPA itself, which still allows state governments to round DOWN 77.8 to 77, knocking off almost a whole part per billion in TCEQ's always-sunny scenario on paper, if not in the actual atmosphere of 2018, where it counts more.
Particularly galling about the state's lackadaisical approach to meeting the current 75 standard is that it comes at a time when we know that number is still too high to adequately protect public health. EPA has just proposed lowering it to 70 ppb based on an overwhelming amount of evidence. Instead of a smog plan that always seems to come in two to three parts per billion over the standard, how about we draft one that comes in at one to three parts per billion under the standard? One that anticipates the need to get even cleaner air in the future and gives us a running start?
As it turns out, we have fresh evidence, provided by the state's own computer model, that requiring off-the-shelf modern pollution controls on those cement kilns, coal plants, and oil and gas facilities could lower DFW regional smog by at least one to two parts per billion, putting us in a much more likely position to actually meet the smog standard. TCEQ looks at this result, wrinkles up its collective nose and says its only a one or two parts per billion change. To which the logical reply is: "OK, show us how you get down closer to 75 ppb without cuts in emissions from those major sources."
Because of course, TCEQ has no alternative, no Plan B, no way to get down to the 75 ppb standard that involves doing something. It isn't invested in that goal. As its website explains, the Commission's "customers" are the industries seeking its permits. Many of those customers are very upset at the mean ol' EPA for following the Clean Air Act. And the customer is always right.
So TCEQ drafts a customer-friendly clean air plan for DFW with no controls on any major sources, makes a new federal gasoline mix do most of the work in the computer model, and (theoretically) crosses the finish line at three parts per billion over the standard. See how hard they tried?
The last time TCEQ tried as hard was the 2011 DFW clean air plan. That "do-nothing" plan was predicted by the state to take us to historically low smog levels because so many more new cars were going to be purchased – during the Great Recession. All we had to do was sit back and watch those babies fly off the lots!
It was the first DFW clean air plan in 20 years to actually produce higher smog levels.
First, but maybe not the last. Regional smog averages rose twice this summer – the first of three that make up a running annual average determining success or failure of the TCEQ plan by 2017. How do you know when a TCEQ clean air plan is being implemented? Smog goes up.
EPA's own modeling is already predicting TCEQ's current "do-nothing" plan won't work, and concludes DFW will be one of only a hand full of metropolitan areas still breathing unsafe and illegal air ten years from now.
In point of fact, no matter how many parts per billion, no gap would be wide enough for TCEQ to find cause for more pollution controls on major sources. They've rigged the game to produce a result they hope allows them to slide by and get EPA approval. It's our responsibility to make sure EPA doesn't give it.
Texas state government has no intention of trying to meet the federal smog standard. It has every intention of dragging out the process so it's unwillingness to implement measures to meet it are obscured by more deadline failures and new Designed-to-Fail plans from Austin. It is a never-ending cycle there's no escape from as long as TCEQ is in charge. Expecting Texas to vigorously enforce environmental laws in 2015 is like expecting Mississippi to enforce federal civil rights law in 1965.
That's why it's important for EPA to takeover the job.
Is it a perfect solution? No, but it's one with a beginning, middle and end, carried out by an agency that still officially believes smog is a public health threat.
Only we can prevent another twenty years of dirty air.
Your view of Downwinders' first Branch and Root Revue grassroots conference depends very much on which event you went to and what you were expecting. For the most part however, participants seemed to agree that for a first time effort it was a valuable addition to the annual activist calendar.
Beginning Wednesday night the 4th, we sponsored the November show of Bar Politics featuring an evening of satire targeting local environmental scandals and screw-ups. A full crowd showed up at the Rustic to see Josh Kumler and Company hit one out of the…bar. Smog and the woefully misnamed Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were targets. So was the City of Dallas and it's attempts to "civilize" the Trinity river bottom into more productive uses like an equestrian center and golf course.
Amidst tornado warnings, we hosted a brainstorming session at the Texas Theater on Thursday evening that began a discussion on the "Future of Fighting Fracking in Texas." Although not as well attended as we hoped, the momentum from this first session led into Saturday's SRO Part 2, and what emerged was several new, more coordinated strategies that look like they might have a future. If you want more information about these brainstorming sessions and what they produced, please get in touch with Tamera Bounds of Mansfield Gas Well Awareness.
With the announcement that the Keystone pipeline was dead, Friday the 6th was a good day to be an environmentalist. An energetic group of 30-40 DFW residents celebrated by setting-up shop across the street from EPA Regional headquarters in Dallas and constructing a huge block-letter "S.O.S." on Munger street, along with a gigantic inflatable inhaler with the message: "HELP! We live in Texas." EPA employees got the message that we need them to take over enforcement of federal environmental laws instead of letting a state government that doesn't even believe smog is a problem delay, block and challenge needed reforms.
Without a doubt the most well-attended and popular event of the entire conference was our one-day "University of Change" on Saturday at First Unitarian Church. Between 60 and 70 activists were split into two tracks of nine workshops, including "How to Get Better Media Coverage," "How to Do Your Own Environmental Sampling," and "The Basics of Fighting Permits in Texas." Whatever second thoughts organizers might have at the beginning of the week were quickly dispelled by the high level of energy produced by these workshops – and carried over into a two-hour post-conference social gathering at the near-by Five Creeks Tavern.
In large part the success of this year's inaugural Root and Branch can be traced directly to the featured guests – Lois Gibbs and her husband Stephen Lester. It's hard to imagine any other living environmental legend being a better fit with the personality of Downwinders at Risk, AND having the spectrum of skills and resources in demand by local activists. Down-to-earth, direct, approachable, empathetic, incredibly helpful – the couple was described by participants as all of these things during their stay.
One of the most satisfying outcomes was being able to acquaint or re-acquaint people with Lois' incredible personal and professional story. Workshop participants not born when Love Canal was making national headlines learned why it's a milestone event. Those of us already in the know were grateful for so much face time with someone who's been described as "the Rosa Parks of the environmental movement."
Despite constant badgering, media coverage was at best sketchy, and at worst, non-existent. This was especially disappointing to see from publications who one would think would be more citizen-friendly, including the Dallas and Texas Observers. Even the Star-Telegram ran a preview piece. Only the reliable Fort Worth Weekly came through in the way you'd think an "alt media source" would.
Thanks to all who came to one or more events. Thanks to all of our sponsors and donors. A round of cheers for the Downwinders at Risk board, who took a leap of faith and landed on their feet. We're already mulling the lessons learned and looking toward Root and Branch 2016. After the holidays, we'll be looking for help to put together next year's festivities. Let us know if you're interested.
Here's the link. Consensus is that it was one of their better efforts.
Join us in a public discussion about what happens now that the state legislature has taken away cities' right to regulate fracking.
Listen and Join In. It's a strategy session, not a presentation. We want and need your input.
Lois Gibbs – Center Center for Health, Environment & Justice and founder of America's anti-toxics movement
Tom "Smitty" Smith – For over 30 years, Smitty has been the "people's lobbyist" in Austin, serving as Director of Public Citizen/Texas
Adam Briggle – UNT Philosophy professor, sometime civil disobedient protester, and a leader of Frack Free Denton
Zac Trahan – Former Dallas Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, a key leader in the Dallas Fracking Wars
Ranjana Bhandari – One of the founders of new group Livable Arlington, and working to create a statewide alliance
Marisa Perales – an environmentally-friendly attorney in private practice with Frederick, Perales, Allmon & Rockwell.
Moderated by Tamera Bounds, a founder of Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, and the Texas Grassroots Network.
Don't Miss This Opportunity
to Take Back the Future
7pm to 9pm
The Historic Texas Theater
231 West Jefferson in Oak Cliff
(NW Corner of Lemmon and Central)
Just like the South attempted to "nullify," or disregard federal civil rights legislation in the 1960's, so Texas is now trying to nullify federal environmental laws.
For that to change, we have to speak-up and demand EPA action. We need a strong federal response to the ridiculous foot-dragging and litigating by Texas
So we're sending a message they can see all the way up on the 12th floor of EPA Regional Headquarters on Ross in the FountainPlace building.
We're constructing a huge "S.O.S." to let the Agency know we need its help to overcome Texas' resistance.
The more people, the bigger the message.
It's another part of Root and Branch 2015
Arlington Conservation Council, Beyond Coal/Texas, Code Pink Greater Dallas, Earthworks, Environment Texas, Dallas Sierra Club, Liveable Arlington, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, North Texas Light Brigade, Public Citizen/Texas, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Grassroots Network, Veterans for Peace
TCEQ to Reveal 2nd "New" DFW Air Plan in Less than 10 months at Regional Air Quality Meeting This Friday – After our EPA Action
NEW SMOG STUDY BY ITS UNT AUTHORS
1:30 pm THIS FRIDAY NOV. 6th
North Central Texas Council of Government HQ
616 Six Flags Rd
SO…FRIDAY REALLY IS OZONE ACTION DAY
12 NOON to 1
Join us in downtown Dallas to urge EPA to take a tough stand with Texas
in protecting our air and water
1:30 – 3:00
Then caravan over to Arlington and get a whole new set of reasons why we need that federal help.
Help us show EPA – AND AUSTIN – there's a demand for cleaner air and water in Texas.