P_IIIE4ballot_boxDallas County Commissioners' vote on sending state air plan back to Austin:

This Tuesday, May 3rd, 9 am   411 Elm Downtown Dallas   

First air quality vote of 2016

Come help us thank local officials for standing up to the state  

This next Tuesday, May 3rd, the Dallas County Commissioners Court will hold an historic vote.

Commissioners will be asked to go on record as the first local North Texas government urging the EPA to reject the currently proposed state air plan for DFW and replace it with a stronger one that actually cuts pollution. 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Theresa Daniel is sponsoring a resolution that requests EPA to do two things:

"…to reject the proposed State Implementation Plan for DFW ozone pollution, and require a new federal DFW clean air plan that can meet or exceed the current 75 ppb federal ozone standard at all North Texas monitoring sites, and implement all reasonably available pollution controls as defined by the federal Clean Air Act. 

and

"...regulate East Texas coal plants as if they were in the DFW non-attainment area, or include them in a larger non-attainment area for North Texas under rules governing the new federal 70 ppb ozone standard."

As the most populous county in the 10-County DFW "non-attainment area" for smog, Dallas carries a lot of political weight. Passing such a resolution would be an important signal to other local officials concerned about the two-decade plus chronic air pollution problem in the region. 

Downwinders and other citizens groups have formed a new ad-hoc alliance to campaign for similar resolutions in other North Texas cities and counties as part of a broader effort of convincing EPA to replace another state "do-nothing" air plan with one of its own. 

The DFW Clean Air Network, or DFW CAN, includes the Dallas Sierra Club, and the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign,Public Citizen TexasMansfield Gas Well AwarenessLiveable Arlington, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.  

It's important to recognize what a challenge Commissioner Daniel and others are facing in taking on Austin over this issue. They need to see your support for their brave stands. And all the Dallas County Commissioners need to be reminded how long we've had to breathe dirty air and why we're fed-up with the state's apathy. 

We CAN win this vote.

We CAN make a difference. 

We CAN breathe clean air. 

R2D2 DroneIn yet another shift away from the state's monopoly on air quality information, breathers in North Texas won't have to rely on the Austin-designed system of local air monitoring much longer.

On Sunday, Downwinders at Risk won its category in the Earth Tank competition at Earth Day Texas and brought home $3000 to buy a drone the group will modify to perform its own air DFW sampling and monitoring operations.

Working with the TCU engineering department, Downwinders will use the money to purchase a heavy-duty consumer drone and outfit it with small air pollution sensors and sampling equipment that work in concert with smart phones and laptops. The result will be an instrument able to give citizens and scientists real time information about air pollution.

As far as we know, we'll be the first group in the state to have this kind of capability.

Our presentation on Sunday made the case that the current DFW air monitoring network run by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gives an incomplete picture of air pollution threats in DFW. Both the limited number of air monitors and their immobility were cited as faults that could be depriving residents of a fuller, more accurate picture of DFW's chronic air pollution problems. Our answer was an air sampling drone that could go practically anywhere at anytime and sample for many different pollutants depending on what's being monitored. 

One of the examples we used was Wise County, which is the most recent addition to the DFW 'non-attainment area" for smog. Despite it now being a part of the regulated smog zone, and despite the fact repeated computer air modeling by the state shows the highest smog levels in the region could be found there, Wise County has no smog monitors. Not a one.

Austin knows if it puts a new monitor is Wise County, DFW's annual smog average might go up even higher than it is now, and so the TCEQ has treated the County like it's not there. 

Downwinders' drone will be able to show-up in Wise County on "ozone action days" and actually take real time measurements of smog for evidence demonstrating the need for an official monitor. TCEQ already hates this idea. 

We'll also be able to do things like take methane readings over the gas patch, montior the plumes at accident sites (think the Magnablend catastrophe in Waxahachie a few years ago), and carry out experiments and research projects for area scientists – all the things TCEQ should be doing, but isn't. 

This new tool allows us to enter into colaborations with other groups, local governments, and university programs. It's a teaching device we can take to schools. It can back-up citizen complaints. The uses are many.

But as we told the panel of judges on Sunday, our real "killer app" is not the drone itself, but the organization of people we put in place to operate it and decide how to use it.

Dr. Michael Slattery of the TCU Institute of Environmental Studies will head a group of researchers, technicians, and citizens who will assess projects, train drone pilots, and help administer "The North Texas Clean Air Force."  Downwinders at Risk board member and Mansfield fracking activist Tamera Bounds has already signed-up. "I can't wait to learn how to fly that thing." 

With the creation of this group, we'll be establishing a parrallel air quality monitoring program that once again opens up a previoulsy closed black box in Austin to citizen use. Just last November, we unveiled our DFW Ozone Study that, for the first time ever, took the state's own computer air model for DFW, cloned it, and had it do things the state did not want done – like tell us how much less smog would be breathed in DFW if you put modern controls on the largest industrial polluters.

In taking on these responsibilities which have tradtionally fallen to the state, our goal is not only to provide valuable new tools to citizens, but build new structures of decision-making about air quality that puts citizens in charge. For us, it's as important to change the way we make decisions as it is to add to the scientific literature, or bring smog levels down. It's right there in our mission statement,

Our goal is to build a strong grassroots constituency and create new strategies for clean air in North Texas.  

We do this by informing, connecting and mobilizing citizens to become active participants in the decision-making that affects the air we breathe. 

In doing so, we improve both the quality of our air and the quality of our democracy.”

We still have a lot of research to do, a lot of mistakes to make, a lot of experience to absorb, but creation and operation of a North Texas Clean AIr Force is one more step to building the kind of citizens' self-defense system necessary when your state government abdicates its job of public health protector.

Now, because the state's monopoly on data is crumbling with each new advancement in micro-processing, we're willing and able to step into this vacuum of leadership. Our goal is not only taking over the jobs Austin isn't doing, but creating a more citizen-friendly way of doing those jobs. 

Move over TCEQ, the North Texas Clean Air Force is about to take off. 

Crowd shot w: inhaler

Release from Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel's office today at 3:30 pm

Officials Seek EPA Help in

Clean-Up of DFW Smog

 

Rep. Johnson and Veasey send letter to Agency chief;

Commissioner Daniel puts resolution on May 3rd

Dallas County Court agenda, say “more

progress needed” than current 

state air plan delivers.

(Dallas)— In an unprecedented coordination of local and congressional action on air quality, elected officials announced they were formally asking for the EPA’s help in producing a better plan to clean up DFW’s chronic smog, now in its third decade of violating the Clean Air Act.

In Washington, Dallas Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey released the contents of an April 19th letter they sent EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, citing the Agency’s own public comments, and calling the state's current plan for addressing air quality in DFW ‘insufficient to meet the existing federal ozone standard.”

“We ask you to consider rejecting the state’s plan and the use of a Federal Implementation Plan if your agency decides that the final SIP revision is insufficient.”

In Dallas, County Commissioner Theresa Daniel has put a resolution on the Court’s May 3rd agenda that urges the EPA to reject the proposed State Implementation Plan for DFW ozone pollution, and require a new federal DFW clean air plan that can meet or exceed the current 75 ppb federal ozone standard…"

Daniel’s resolution also requests the EPA to “regulate East Texas coal plants as if they were in the DFW non-attainment area, or include them in a larger non-attainment area for North Texas under rules governing the new federal 70 ppb ozone standard.”

“What’s at stake is the last opportunity to take a coordinated regional approach to reducing air pollution until at least 2021,” said Daniel, who’s been helping oversee a local air quality research project produced by the UNT Engineering Department. “After decades of being in violation of the Clean Air Act, we need more and faster progress to solve this serious public health issue costing us lives and dollars every year”

What Daniel and the Representatives are seeking is an official EPA rejection of an anti-smog  plan for DFW and surrounding counties already passed by the state and on its way to EPA. The plan provides for no cuts in pollution from any major sources in North Texas, relying instead on a coming 2017 nationwide federal mandate that will reduce smog-forming pollution from traffic.

Because its contents are well known and a public comment period has passed, EPA’s skepticism of the state’s plan is on the record.  The Agency’s conclusion that the plan needs some 100-200 tons a day more in additional air pollution cuts to attain the necessary drop in smog is used in the congressional letter calling for federal intervention. Daniel’s resolution also cites the EPA’s comments as one of the reasons the region needs to reject the state plan and draft a better one.

Although unprecedented in the long history of DFW air quality planning, the officials’ request follows on the heels of a similar resolution passed by the Texas Medical Association last year., spurred on by local Dallas County doctors who’ve been speaking out about the health dangers of DFW’s continuing smog problem. Many of those same doctors say they’ll be present on the 3rd to voice their support for Daniel’s resolution and praise Johnson and Veasey for taking the lead in Washington.

“Evidence is overwhelming that our high ozone levels are causing increasing numbers of area children to develop asthma, and are contributing to the many asthma attacks, chronic lung disease exacerbations, and heart attacks we see every day in our emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals,” said Robert Haley, MD, a Dallas internist and epidemiologist. “A large body of medical research shows that more people of all ages develop respiratory illnesses and die prematurely in cities with high ozone levels, and we have among the highest ozone levels in the country.”

On Wednesday the American Lung Association issued its annual “State of the Air” report and once again gave the Dallas-Fort Worth area an “F” for air quality. Although the number of dirty air days and their severity has fallen over the years, the region is still not in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Daniel cited the new report as one more reason she, Johnson, and Veasey have to take action now. “This is the only opportunity until the next decade to get a better clean air plan for North Texas.  If we don’t take the right steps in 2016, we’ll still be getting an “F” in 2026.”

__________________________________________________________________________________

Drone 1In what would be a huge leap forward in the ability of citizens to do their own air monitoring, Downwinders' proposal to purchase a drone and use it for regional air quality sampling is in the running for Earth Day Texas' "Earth Tank Prize" competition. 

Purchasing the first aircraft in a new citizen-organized "North Texas Clean Air Force" is now one of nine projects to be pitched live in front of a "Shark Tank"- like atmosphere of audience and judges on the last day of the Fair Park extravaganza. Locally-based Downwinders' is in direct competition with two other groups in the category of organizations with budgets under $100,000 annually: statewide group Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Austin-based Rainforest Partnership. The prize is a $3000 grant. 

Earth Tank Prize 2016 is an initiative of Earth Day Texas (EDTx) and Dallas Festival of Ideas (DFOI) that awards cash prizes to environmental non-profit groups for important conservation and sustainability projects in Texas. The other two categories of contestants – non-profits making between $100-500,000, and those bringing in over $500,000 also have three finalists each and are competing for prize packages of $7,000 and $15,000 respectively. The complete list of finalists is here.

For our own effort, Downwinders has partnered with Dr. Michael Slattery of TCU's Institute for Environmental Studies, who has experience in both air quality modeling and using drones for conservation of rhino populations in Africa. Dr. Slattery would head a committee determining the use of the drone to insure scientific credibility and useful, robust data. Local academic institutions and non-profits would be able to propose projects that would be weighed on their ability to add to public policy and public health.

Besides its capacity to provide a new tool for researchers, the Downwinders' drone could also become an important enforcement tool for citizens.

Having the ability to monitor and sample air quality in real time anywhere in the North Texas area is a game changer for local public health policy. Not only can a wide variety of hypotheses be tested relating to plume transport and content, but you’d have the ability to monitor downwind of catastrophic accidents, and confirm the compliance of major polluters. You can show where the state should place new official monitors, and what pollutants those monitors should be targeting. You can map more effective control strategies using the results.

As we noted in our submission, what’s unique about this proposal is not that it employs a drone, but that it’s a direct assumption of government responsibilities by local citizens and experts. Much like Downwinders' recent taking over of the state's air computer modeling duties for smog, churning out a map for cleaner air the state could not bring itself to produce, this is a way that citizens can not just supplement, or replace the state's current air monitoring and sampling program. We can build a better one. 

All nine finalists for the Earth Tank Prize will pitch live to an audience and judges at Fair Park Sunday, April 24th. We'll follow-up with details as to when and where. Cross your fingers.