1) Mercury Rules
Thursday's headline was that Supreme Court Justice Roberts denied the attempt by Texas and 18 other states to delay the implementation of EPA's new, more protective limits on release of toxic Mercury pollution from coal plants. In 2013, three out of the top five largest Mercury polluters in the whole country were Texas coal plants.
It was only last summer that majority of the entire Court ruled EPA hadn't followed protocol in weighing costs to the coal industry versus public health benefits, and sent the standard back to the Agency to be rewritten. Not an especially big deal.
Texas, along with other states, sought an injunction from Justice Roberts to stop the timeline for implementation of the rules until the rewrite was finished. Roberts denied the request and so EPA is allowed to continue writing the rules and now expects to release the revised edition next month. One indication of how much trouble the rules are in, or not, is the speed and format of Robert's actions. He ruled on the case only a day after the EPA had submitted its brief, and ruled on it unilaterally, not bothering to convene the full Court.
The practical implications of the rules are reductions in the use of coal with higher Mercury content, better Particulate Matter pollution control equipment, and specific carbon absorption control technology aimed at Mercury. Many Texas coal plants have already taken steps to comply with the standards and it seems like almost all have applied for extensions to the original deadline.
2) Haze Rules
Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state was suing the EPA for rejecting its lackadaisical plan to protect national parks from haze air pollution, also mostly coming from coal plants. Just three Luminant coal plants – Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello – release 40% of all Texas’ Sulfur Dioxide air pollution.
Late last year, EPA announced it found the state's lightning-fast 140-year plan to do absolutely nothing somehow inadequate, and begin to draft one of its own that would require "scrubbers" for Sulfur Dioxide pollution at nine coal plants across the state. It also concluded Texas had intentionally downplayed the impact of the coal plants on park air quality in computer modeling submitted to EPA .
Texas is suing to prevent the EPA from enforcing its plan to require scrubbers and asking the court to accept the original Texas plan as reasonable. Pending.
3) Sulfur Dioxide Non-attainment Areas in East Texas
In mid-February, EPA announced it intended to declare areas surrounding three East Texas coal plants as out of compliance with national Sulfur Dioxide pollution limits and declared them in official "non-attainment" of the Clean Air Act. Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake power plants were found to be causing the violations in ambient air quality using computer modeling results first run by the Sierra Club, and then analyzed by the EPA. Boundaries were drawn for the new non-attainment areas that include all or parts of Freestone, Anderson, Rusk, Gregg, Panola, and Titus counties.
Final action by EPA on the non-attainment area classification is scheduled for this summer. Then it will be up to the state to submit a plan for action. We can all write the script from there. It ends in a court ruling.
Eventually, these East Texas non-attainment areas are another tool by EPA's to raise the costs of operating the oldest, most polluting coal plants to better reflect their toll on public health. Plants could lower their Sulfur Dioxide emissions by importing more "Cleaner Coal" from Wyoming and/or paying for those scrubbers the Haze Rules requires too.
4) DFW Clean Air Plan
DFW is in "non-attainment" for ozone, or smog pollution. It has been since 1991. The State has submitted a plan to EPA that sits back and watches federal fuel changes reduce smog-forming pollution by 20-40 tons per day. The problem? EPA estimates it will take cuts of 100-200 tons per day to get down to the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. The state says it sees no reason for more cuts.
This is the state plan up for comment at the the now infamous "F*** the TCEQ" public hearing in Arlington in late January, with final submission to EPA by the state this summer.
But between now and then one of the headlines you should see will be EPA rejecting the part of the state's plan dealing with pollution control technology. EPA has already telegraphed their intention to do so, and they don't have to wait for the state's final submittal deadline to act.
This will, of course, be followed by the state's suing the EPA for daring to enforce the Clean Air Act when Austin won't. But it won't keep the EPA from doing exactly what it did in the Haze Rule fight – write its own clean air plan for DFW.
And that will be our chance to make the greatest leap forward in local air quality in a decade.
Last week, the EPA made an important admission.
"Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are significantly higher than previous official estimates, according to draft revisions of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. At 9.3 million metric tons, revised estimates of 2013 emissions are 27% percent higher than the previous tally. Over a 20-year timeframe, those emissions have the same climate impact as over 200 coal-fired power plants."
This most recent analysis jives with other studies like the one from UTA/EDF that found Barnett Shale facilities leaking up to 50% more methane than previously estimated. In reaction to the information, EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying "we need to do more" to cut methane pollution.
In its last year in office the Obama administration is finally grasping that natural gas isn't the climate change wunderkind its promoters claimed and last week's announcement is the tacit admission they need to do more to crack down on oil and gas.
What has that got to do with DFW in 2016?
By Spring, the Regional office of the EPA is expected to announce that it has rejected the State's clean air plan for DFW in regard to its application of "Reasonably Available Control Technology." That means the state hasn't required the application of readily-available air pollution controls for major sources the way the Clean Air Act demands. Specifically, EPA staff have cited the failure of the state to lower the emission standards for the Midlothian cement kilns to reflect more modern technology. But it's not the only area where Texas fell short. There are no new pollution requirements for any oil and gas facilities in the state's plan either.
EPA rejection of the Technology section of the state's DFW air plan would mean the EPA would begin to draft its own clean air plan for the region. An EPA-drafted plan gives local citizens concerned about the health impacts of fracking an opportunity to persuade the Agency to use the plan to crack down on smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in the Barnett Shale by requiring lower emission standards on all aspects of drilling and production.
While methane isn't considered a smog pollutant, it doesn't get emitted by itself. It comes out of a stack or valve, or leaks from a pipeline combined with smog-forming VOCs. So the more you control VOC pollution, the more you control methane pollution.
In light of last week's announcement, this gives EPA an extra incentive to go after VOC emissions in DFW even though the conventional wisdom is that it's combustion-generated Nitrogen Oxide pollution that really makes DFW smog so bad.
BTW, that conventional wisdom is under attack because the worst-performing air monitoring sites in North Texas are all in the Barnett Shale and heavily influenced by pollution from oil and gas facilities – both NOX and VOCs. It's possible to imagine a strategy to get smog numbers down in DFW solely by application of oil and gas emission regulations that can impact these important monitors – which drive the entire region's fate – even if the new regs have minimal impact on monitors elsewhere.
What kind of new regulations are we talking about?
* Start with the electrification of all 650 large natural gas compressors in the 10-county area.
* Do the same thing for all drilling rigs in the same 10-county area – nothing but electric.
* Emission standards for tanks and pipelines that reflect the latest leak-detection technology.
Inclusion of new EPA “Control Technique Guidelines" which are part of Agency's new methane rules. According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone."
Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog receive "an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources."
There's one more reason EPA has an incentive to go looking for all the cuts in oil and gas pollution it can find in the 10-county DFW non-attainment area: after the cement kilns, there's no other major sources the Agency can target locally.
Because while it has the authority in a federal clean air plan to regulate all pollution sources in that 10-county DFW non-Attainment area, the EPA can't write new emission standards for the East Texas coal plants located 100 miles outside of that 10-county area – even though those coal plants have more of an impact on North Texas smog than any other source of pollution. EPA (and us) can put pressure on the state to address these dinosaurs, but it can't touch them through a DFW air plan.
EPA staff has estimated it will take a cut of 100-200 TONS PER DAY in local smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution for DFW reach the current 75 parts per billion smog standard. The State's "plan" – i.e. the federal gasoline fuel changes it relies on – only represents a 20-40 tons per day cut.
Where do the other 60 -160 tons a day in cuts come from?
To give you some idea of the size of that gap, the state estimates that all on and off road vehicles in the 10-county area will emit 161 tons per day of NOx in 2018.
State-of-the-art controls on all the cement plants might give you up to 15 tons a day. Electrification of the large compressors, another 15-16 tons per day eventually. After that it gets hard to find large volumes of cuts without the coal plants. And this is why the EPA should give cuts in VOC/methane a longer look than they have before – they're concentrated in the same areas where the region's worst-performing monitors are and they represent a huge source of climate change pollution that could also be another skin on the wall in addition to lowering smog levels.
There's no question the passage of HB40 has stymied grassroots progress toward more protective regulation of fracking by municipal governments in the Barnett Shale. It's thrown what was a fairly successful local movement into disarray. To date, there doesn't appear to be any consensus about strategies to combat the effects of the legislation.
But a way to outflank some of the impacts of HB 40 coming is coming down the pike, and it offers local fracktivists an opportunity to rally round a common, achievable goal – lowering emission levels across the board in the Barnett Shale. We can overlay a larger, stricter regional template for oil and gas regulation in place of 100 separate municipal ones.
What better way to nullify the efforts of the nullifiers in Austin?
Can you even remember the last time you received a DFW political mailer that spoke about the value of air that won't make you sick or kill you, much less a whole piece devoted to the subject? Neither can we. That's what makes this mailer from incumbent Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel so welcome.
In an oversized 9 x11 mailer that went to 5 to 6000 households in District 1, under the headline, "Clean Air. It's Worth Fighting For," Daniel states, "Our region is failing to meet emissions standards. It's a public health issue. It's a cost issue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We are doing something about it by fighting for air quality."
On the back are four – count 'em – four paragraphs discussing the recent UNT local air quality study Downwinders sponsored, as well as Dr. Robert Haley's associated examination of the costs of dirty air, and the County Court resolution sponsored by Daniel last November asking the judge overseeing the Energy Future Holdings (Texas Utilities) bankruptcy case to clean-up the company's old East Texas lignite coal plants due to their large impact on DFW smog.
This pairing of issue to elected official is a consequence of Downwinders' Ozone Attainment Project, which produced the UNT study, but also put together a committee of local leaders to oversee it. Former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher chaired it. During her time in office about a decade ago, Keliher was the most influential local leader on air quality. She rode roughshod over what is now seen as the most effective clean air plan in DFW's two-decade old struggle to meet clean air standards – the one that came closest to working, however fleetingly. With her institutional knowledge of the issues and process, one of the co-benefits of Judge Keliher chairing our UNT study committee was being able to mentor a new generation of local elected officials on air quality.
Commissioner Daniel was one of the most active and vocal members of that committee. By her own admission, she didn't know a lot about air quality at the beginning, but she kept coming to the committee briefings and learning. Over the last year, she's become more confident in her understanding of the DFW dirty air narrative, to the point of now leading meetings with other officials.
Daniel and her fellow Project Committee member Dallas County Councilwoman Sandy Greyson have become a new dynamic duo for the cause of regional air quality. They represent a brand new wave of local leadership on the issue – one that has been sorely lacking even as DFW sunk deeper into chronic dirty air thanks to a state government that doesn't think smog is that big of a deal. You may remember that Greyson testified at the recent Arlington hearing on the State's do-nothing smog plan, and Daniel sent her Chief of Staff to speak. Had they not served on the Keliher/UNT Committee, it's likely neither would have even known about the event.
Even as they become more active, they're drawing more of their peers into the discussion – County Commissioners and City Council members in other parts of the "non-attainment area." For the first time in this decade, clean air has some serious advocates at the local level
Downwinders had a plan. We wanted to take away the state's exclusive power over the model that drives all the clean air decisions for the region and educate elected officials about the importance of winning the fight over chronic smog. We not only got an unprecedented study that used the State's own data to contradict it's conclusions about no new controls needed – we got at least two strong elected officials as new advocates for the cause that were in on that exercise from the beginning.
We didn't know Commissioner Daniel was going to send this mailer out, but it's one more beneficial side effect of grinding things out on a local level.
This plan won't work.
That's the simple message from the three pages of new comments Region 6 EPA staff submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last month concerning its anti-smog plan for DFW.
That message begins with the cover letter, written by Mary Stanton, Chief of the State Implementation Plan Section for Region 6. "… additional local and regional ozone precursor emission reductions will be necessary to reach attainment by 2017."
How much in reductions? EPA estimates an additional 100-200 tons per day more in cuts of smog-forming pollution will be necessary to achieve compliance with the current 75 parts per billion ozone standard. "Without emission reductions on this scale, it is unlikely that the area will attain by the attainment date.”
To give you some idea of how large a number that is, TCEQ calculates that all gas and oil air pollution in DFW equals 78 tons per day, the Midlothian cement plants belch out over 18 tons per day, and all the power plants in the immediate DFW area, 21 tons per day. Totaled, those three sources add up to 117 tons of pollution a year.
All the cars and trucks on DFW roads are said to add up to 180 tons per day of pollution.
So the decrease in pollution EPA is saying is necessary to get down to the current ozone standard is huge.
But take a look at those obsolete East Texas coal plants outside the boundaries the DFW nonattainment area. TCEQ says they account for a total of 146 tons per day. Add Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which can get you up to 90% reductions in coal plant emissions, or close them down completely, add decreases from new controls on the cement kilns and oil and gas sources, and you're well on your way to amassing 200 tons a day of cuts in pollution.
Which do you think is more attractive to most DFW residents: permanently parking their cars, or putting new controls on the coal plants? Even though the coal plants harm the whole DFW airshed more than any other major source, they're not held accountable to the same regulatory requirements as sources closer to the center of the urban core, but which have less impact. Our cars must have special gasoline formulas in summer, we have to have HOV lanes, and we still go through Ozone Action Days, but the coal plants party like it's 1979. TCEQ is taking a hands-off approach to the plants and as a result the DFW region will continue to be in violation of the smog standard or huge cuts from other sources will be necessary.
TCEQ could have added new controls to the coal plants to the plan, but it chose not to. In fact, there are no new controls in the state's plan on any major sources of air pollution affecting DFW. EPA's new comments go to the heart of that choice. "Without additional emission reduction measures, we don’t see how the area will meet the standard of 75 ppb by the end of the 2017 ozone season," writes EPA staff.
EPA goes on to say TCEQ's computer modeling supporting it's do-nothing plan is "unrealistic," severely underestimating future smog levels, and delivering projections of decreases "that seem unlikely to be reached."
With this stance, EPA seems poised to reject this "attainment demonstration" part of the air plan as being insufficient. But it must wait to see how TCEQ responds to EPA comments about its modeling shortcomings and need for new cuts when the state officially submits its plan this July. Then, and ony then can the Agency approve or disapprove. We're going out on a limb here and predicting TCEQ won't change a thing, thus inviting EPA disapproval.
That's the pattern TCEQ has already established with its "screw you" response to the EPA's comments about the part of the plan dealing with "Reasonably Available Control Technology," or RACT, last February. This second part decides what new controls should be required of major sources of air pollution within the 10-County DFW "non-attainment" area – like the Midlothian cement plants and the thousands of oil and gas facilities checkerboarding the western half of the Metromess.
TCEQ says nothing new is required. EPA disagrees. EPA told TCEQ last year it had to do a new RACT review and lower the kiln's emission limits to account for a new generation of technology or it would have to reject the state's plan. TCEQ ignored the request, daring the EPA to disapprove. EPA seems more than willing to take them up on the offer.
And so while you're waiting for the state's computer modeling and suspect math to be rejected by EPA in July, you can probably expect to see EPA officially rejecting the RACT part of the state's plan sooner – maybe as soon as the next 60-90 days.
Despite the TCEQ going out of its way to submit an unacceptable plan to EPA, if the Agency pulls the trigger and begins a federal takeover of the DFW air plan, the Commission and the whole of Texas State Government will cry bloody murder about the usurpation of the state's authority and once again proclaim how "out of control" the EPA is on their way to filing suit.
This is why the rowdy eruption of public sentiment for an EPA plan at the hearing in Arlington two weeks ago was so critical (Thank you again). It's also why we now have to be about the business of getting DFW local governments, hospitals and school districts to pass resolutions in favor of an EPA takeover. The Agency will need this kind of public support to counter all the criticism it will take from the Usual Suspects in Austin and DC. If you're interested in helping us pass one of these resolutions in your county, city, school or hospital district, please let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And as always, it's why you, and people you know should:
Those were not your father's treehuggers that showed up in Arlington last night.
Over 100 people, including 36 speakers over three hours, provided perhaps the angriest, and certainly the most profanity-laced evening of testimony ever heard in the two-decade history of state public hearings on DFW's dirty air. It's as if frustration over the last 20 years of State failures had finally found a cathartic, public release.
For the most part, speakers from communities across North Texas ignored the State and spoke directly to representatives of EPA, pleading for the Agency to take air quality planning out of the hands of a hostile Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
But when many speakers did address the State's efforts, they didn't parse any words – at least any words that can be printed in a family newspaper, or this blog. For the first time anyone can recall, f-bombs were hurled at TCEQ over its failure to take North Texas bad air seriously. Dallasite Gary Stuard set the tone for the event early on by saying it was time for residents "to quit being so polite" about their systematic poisoning. His message was taken to heart by many of the speakers that followed.
Old, young, male, female, Black, White, Latino, mainstream group, neighborhood group, Elected officials, students, business owners, doctors, asthma suffers, parents of asthma suffers, people concerned about climate change, about fracking, about coal plant pollution, about cement kilns – it didn't matter. Not a single speaker spoke in favor of the State's plan of doing nothing about rising smog levels.
Seizing on the day's headlines, Lance Irwin from Mansfield was the first, but not last person to compare the official neglect over lead in Flint, Michigan's water supply to pollution in DFW's air supply. Arlington residents spoke – and in one instance, sung – movingly about fracking contamination making their neighborhoods unlivable. More than one testimony was dedicated to a friend or relative who'd died from a lung disease. Equal parts despair and anger.
By the time the final speakers finished, it felt more like a church revival. The Church of the Unredeemed State Agency. When was the last time you heard people say they had "fun" at a pro forma public hearing?
To be sure, more traditional voices and statements were in full force. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a staff member urging the State to redo its plan. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel sent her aide to talk about the need to control coal plant pollution in the plan. Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson spoke for the need to grab this opportunity to make progress. Dr. Robert Haley of the Dallas County Medical Society and UT-SW did an excellent job of summarizing his recent study on the public health and economic costs of DFW smog and speaking to the Texas Medical Society resolution against the state plan. Rita Vinson, newly elected President of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations read a unanimous resolution passed by her group only the day before, calling for EPA to reject the plan. Lots of speakers recounted the long and winding road leading up to the current fact that DFW now has worse smog than Houston.
But it was the tossing aside of business meeting protocol and the pretense that the State had any interest in being there that made this a milestone event. Veterans of past hearings talked about how tired they were of repeating themselves. Newcomers couldn't understand how a State government that doesn't think smog is bad for you can write an effective anti-smog plan. Dentonites were rightfully resentful of seeing a plan that does nothing about smog from oil and gas sources being promoted by the same government that stole its municipal rights to regulate it themselves. Coarseness in language reflected rawness of feelings over yet another Texas attempt to undermine the EPA.
Although the weather was nasty, the major obstacle organizers faced yesterday was understandable skepticism about what good it would do to go to another useless TCEQ hearing. The answer was the need to provide EPA with political support to prepare for a federal takeover. That happened. Big Time. For three solid hours.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the worst public ass-kicking the TCEQ has ever received in DFW.
EPA sent three staff members, including those in charge of reviewing and commenting on the State plan. They took notes. We'll get to see what the Agency thinks about this "new" plan within the next three weeks after the comment period closes and its written review becomes part of the public record.
After that, it should be a relatively short time before EPA decides to officially reject the part of the plan dealing with new controls in the 10-County "non-attainment area" – the part the State didn't do even after EPA asked TCEQ to, and explicitly told the Commission it would reject the plan unless it did.
It will take EPA longer, perhaps until the end of the year, to make a decision about the rest of the plan – the part that relies on computer modeling and estimates of future pollution. It's more technically oriented and there's more nuance than the up or down legal opinion with the control section.
And for citizens?
Send an email to EPA urging them to reject the State's awful air plan for DFW
Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition urging EPA to reject the State's plan
Forward our two-and-a-half minute video to people you know are concerned about air quality – or should be.
Submit written comments on this plan to the TCEQ:
Please reference: "Dallas-Fort Worth Attainment Demonstration for the 2008 Eight-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Area, Project Number 2015-014-SIP-NR"
via the interwebs:
Or by snail mail:
Air Quality Division, TCEQ
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087
And get ready to campaign for resolutions supporting an EPA clean air plan for DFW from your local city council, county government, hospital districts, and school boards. We're all about building support for a federal takeover of our air quality planning between now and the end of the year when EPA is expected to make its final decision. We're coming to a governmental entity near you!
Lots is at stake. We can win the largest improvement in DFW air quality in a decade or wait another five years to try. Thursday night's showing makes clear many of us aren't willing to wait.
Onward Thru the Smog.
6:30 pm Thursday
616 Six Flags Drive Arlington
When polluters cut smog pollution, they cut a lot of other kinds of pollution as well, including climate-damaging gases like CO2 and methane.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of this kind of pollution could be eliminated in the next air plan for Dallas-Ft. Worth as a result of requiring modern controls on coal plants, cement kilns, and oil and gas sources.
Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant in East Texas is the largest global warming polluter in the country. It released 16.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, the equivalent of 3.5 million cars.
Recent studies show facilities in the Barnett Shale Gas Play are leaking 50% to 90% more methane than the government estimates.
We need to cut pollution here, now.
That's why if you care about climate change, you'll want to show-up next Thursday night and speak in favor of the EPA rejecting a State of Texas plan that doesn't require any new cuts in pollution from any source.
Join your earth-hugging peers in calling for a new air plan written by EPA that includes cuts in local smog pollution that can also benefit the entire planet. In as little as two years, you could make a big difference to a big problem.
Think Globally. Act Locally.
Not just a bumper sticker.
When the Ash Grove cement plant in Midlothian modernized its operations to conform with new anti-smog rules and other regulations, it cut approximately 300,000 tons of CO2 pollution – a year. That's just one cement plant.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and a highly potent greenhouse gas, with over 80 times the 20-year warming power of carbon dioxide.
EPA estimates 750,000 to one million tons of methane is released by equipment leaks every year from facilities in the Barnett Shale, but a recent peer-reviewed study estimated methane emissions in the Barnett Shale may be twice as high as EPA thinks.
There are pending EPA rules to limit methane pollution at natural gas sites that could be rolled into this DFW air plan. Even a 50% cut in leaks in North Texas would mean an annual drop of 400-500,000 tons of climate changing pollution.
A good anti-smog plan from EPA will also put more pressure on the obsolete East Texas coal plants to close.These coal plants are the biggest reasons Texas status is the #1 Greenhouse Gas polluter in the U.S.
The fastest way to cut lots of greenhouse gases in the Belly of the Beast is with a good EPA anti-smog plan for DFW.
Come speak in support of an air plan for our region that would help reduce asthma attacks here, and the melting of glaciers in Greenland.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
First Floor Meeting Room
As you might have already heard, last week the EPA announced it was rejecting Texas' proposed rapid-response,140-year plan for restoring air quality and visibility in National Parks affected by pollution from the state's largest industrial facilities, primarily coal-fired power plants, aka, "the haze rule."
Instead, the EPA decided to implement its own, slightly more decisive plan for action. Whereas the state concluded it needed no new controls on any coal plants, the EPA is requiring modern Sulfur Dioxide (SOx) scrubbers on 14 different boilers at nine power plant sites across the state it estimates will remove 230,000 tons of the pollutant annually. That's 60% of the state's total SOX pollution, and 7% of the nation's.
These scrubbers not only capture SOx on behalf of more beautiful vistas in Big Bend, they also do a good job of preventing lots of Particulate Matter pollution from reaching the lungs of people that live in between the coal plants and parks. Although computer modeling was used by EPA to determine the effectiveness of the scrubbers it's requiring, it focused on results inside the parks. Getting results for metro areas like DFW involves a lot of data mining nobody has done, but there's no question that if reductions in air pollution are helping Oklahoma and West Texas parks, they're also helping out the air in North Texas. Just one look at the modeling maps produced by our recent UNT study of DFW ozone shows the immense impacts of these plants on DFW air quality.
For residents of DFW, the reductions in pollution are overdue and welcome news (the process leading up to this rule can be traced all the way back to 1977), and it certainly makes it even less likely that the big bad old TXU plants (Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake) can escape their obsolescence after bankruptcy proceedings.
But the way the EPA determined to go it alone in this case may be much more important to DFW's own air quality in the long run as the actual reductions it implements.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but EPA called BS on the way Texas was obscuring the data needed to write a good haze rule plan. This M.O. sounds awfully familiar to citizens watching the way the State has drafted its anti-smog plan for DFW, now officially approved by the TCEQ Commissioners and on its way to a public hearing in Arlington on Thursday, January 21st (6 pm, HQ of North Central Texas Council of Governments, 616 Six Flags Road).
And if EPA is willing to stand-up to Texas over air quality in parks, shouldn't it take at least as strong a stand on behalf of seven million souls in DFW?
About the same time EPA was announcing a federal takeover of the haze rule plan, Downwinders released its new video appealing for help from the EPA to reject the State's do-nothing smog plan for DFW. A big part of our case is its reliance on faulty analysis and downplaying or obscuring evidence that contradicts the state's ideological position that no new pollution controls for smog are needed in a region in its third decade of continual violation of the Clean Air Act and after a summer where smog averages increased…twice.
Which makes the language EPA uses to justify this takeover of the haze rule plan all the more relevant, and gives residents some hope should the Agency apply the same logic to the State's pathetic response to DFW's chronic smog problem.
EPA accuses Texas of hiding the most effective control strategies from EPA and Oklahoma (where the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is affected by Texas-based pollution seven times as much as Oklahoma-based SOx) by flooding its emissions inventory data with both large and small sources of SOx from across the state, washing out the impact of the larger coal plants.
"During the interstate consultation required by the Regional Haze Rule, Oklahoma and Texas discussed the significant contribution of sources in Texas to visibility impairment at the Wichita Mountains, but Texas concluded that no additional controls were warranted for its sources during the first planning period to ensure reasonable progress at the Wichita Mountains, or at its own Class I areas, the Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.
In reaching this conclusion, Texas relied on an analysis that obscured the benefits of potentially cost-effective controls on those sources or groups of sources with the largest visibility impacts in these Class I areas by inclusion of those controls with little visibility benefit, but which served to increase the total cost figures.
This flawed analysis deprived Oklahoma of the information it needed to properly assess the reasonableness of controls on Texas sources during the consultation process and prevented Texas from properly assessing the reasonableness of controls to remedy visibility at Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains.
A few pages later EPA reiterates the charge,
Texas’ analysis was deficient and not approvable because the large control set it selected was not appropriately refined, targeted, or focused on those sources having the most significant and potentially cost-effective visibility benefits. We conclude this control set included controls on sources that would increase total cost figures, but would achieve very little visibility benefit…because Texas only estimated the visibility benefit of all the controls together, it was not able to assess the potential benefit of controlling those sources with the greatest visibility impacts, and potentially cost-effective controls. Therefore, the effects of those controls with the greatest visibility benefits were obscured by the inclusion of those controls with little visibility benefit. This only served to increase the total cost figure, making Texas’ potential control set seem less attractive.
In analyzing whether additional controls should be required for some of its sources under the long-term strategy provisions of the Regional Haze Rule, Texas relied on the same flawed analysis discussed above that it relied on to evaluate additional controls under the reasonable progress provisions to address visibility impairment at Texas’ own Class I areas. Texas’ analytical approach obscured the contributions of individual sources that Texas’ own analysis indicated could be cost-effectively controlled.
This deprived Oklahoma of the information it needed to properly assess whether there were reasonable controls for Texas sources and to properly establish reasonable progress goals for the Wichita Mountains that included the resulting emission reductions.
That's just about as plain an outline of a state government conspiracy to avoid complying with the Clean Air Act as the EPA puts in print. And it sets the stage to examine the State's DFW air plan using the same fine-toothed comb for rooting-out analytical crap meant to obscure inconvenient facts on the ground.
For example, the State's conclusion that no new controls for smog are warranted is based on an analysis of what's "reasonably available" that's every bit as flawed as anything dreamed up by Austin for dodging its responsibilities to national parks. It ignores modern controls already operating on cement kilns, gas compressors, and coal plants – to the point of not even mentioning the permitting of these controls by the TCEQ itself.
Moreover, hard as it is to believe, the state's conclusion on smog controls is based on no modeling of the impact of those controls on air quality. That was left up to Downwinders and its UNT study, using the state's own computer modeling. What that effort provided was nothing less than a road map for how to get the most cost-effective cuts in smog by reducing pollution from those kilns, coal plants, and compressors. This is information the state could have gotten if it wanted it, but it didn't want it because it disputed the ideological position that no new pollution controls for industry are justified. It knew if it looked, it would have to release the results. So it just didn't look.
Finally, the state is still claiming that its plan will get DFW "close enough," to the 75 ppb standard, clocking-in at 77.8 ppb. So the plan doesn't even accomplish its goal. That makes it completely indistinguishable from the last five state air plans for DFW. What the State is counting on is EPA giving them credit for a wish list collection of unquantifiable stuff under the regulatory category of "Weight of Evidence." This is exactly the same strategy used in past plans. Ride new changes in federal law as far as you can and convince the EPA that "trends" are in your favor to make up any slack.
Only this time, "trends" may be working against the State. The summer of 2015 saw an increase in regional smog averages, indicating that perhaps its do-nothing approach isn't working. If you combine this information with the fact that smog levels also rose during the last do-noting plan from 2011, you have some "trends" crying out for an EPA takeover.
Since the TCEQ has approved its DFW air plan for submittal to EPA, we won't have to wait long to find out what the Agency's response will be. Public comments are due by January 29th. Let's hope EPA's review of an air plan for people's health in the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area is as rigorous as it was for the one looking out for visitors to the Wichita Mountains.
(Dallas)— “Help Us: We Live in Texas.”
That’s the plea of a video released today by a local clean air group claiming the state has so intentionally sabotaged Dallas-Fort Worth anti-smog efforts that residents now need EPA to take over the job.
“Texas is as likely to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2015 as Mississippi was to enforce the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” said Downwinders at Risk’s Director Jim Schermbeck, echoing a line in the video.
The group posted the 2:42 minute piece, titled “SOS @EPA” in response to this morning's vote by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to move forward with a new anti-smog plan for DFW that the Commission has already been told by EPA falls short of legal and regulatory requirements.
In the video, footage from a Downwinders’ street action calling for help at EPA Regional Headquarters in downtown Dallas November 5th is spliced with facts about DFW’s 20 years and counting chronic smog problem. Central to the group’s charge is the state’s unwillingness to put new controls on major sources of industrial air pollution like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas coal plants, and gas facilities – despite the fact their own air modeling shows those controls could bring smog down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act.
Today’s vote by the TCEQ is the second in 12 months concerning the same DFW air plan. Its goal is to get from an average of 83 parts per billion (ppb) of smog in 2015 down to the current federal standard of 75 ppb by 2017.
However, the state only estimates a best-case result of almost 78 ppb. Despite that shortfall, there are no new pollution controls required of any major sources. Over the last 20 years, the state has written five anti-smog plans for DFW. None has accomplished its goal on deadline, and regional smog levels actually rose this year.
Besides once again failing to hit is mark overall, the EPA has already told the State its formal assessment of modern pollution controls for those major sources needed revisiting to be legal. TCEQ refused to comply with EPA and today’s plan contains exactly the same assessment as the one EPA has already said isn’t sufficient, making that part of the plan instantly illegal. Although EPA gives state governments authorization to write smog plans for their own metropolitan areas, it still has final approval based on criteria listed in the Clean Air Act.
One of the points made in the group’s video is that studies by local hospitals have shown DFW childhood asthma rates to be as much as four times the state average and over twice the national average, making the need for cleaner air imperative.
“The health of seven million Dallas-Fort Worth residents is being held hostage by a state government hostile to the goal of clean air. Only federal intervention can save us,” said Schermbeck.
The video can be found at Downwinders at Risk’s website (downwindersatrisk.org), it’s Facebook page, twitter account (@cleaner air) and the group’s YouTube channel (Downwinders’ TV).
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It might be hard to believe, but despite being the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area, AND being in constant violation of the Clean Air Act for smog since 1991, AND having higher annual smog numbers than Houston, AND being singled out by EPA as one of only a handful of areas expecting to STILL be in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2025, there’s still only one professional staff person devoted to cleaning up DFW air: the staff person you pay for when you contribute to Downwinders at Risk.
Besides community organizing on the ground, Downwinders also had to go out and build a new committee of local officials concerned about dirty air after the traditional regional air quality planning process broke down. That committee produced a first-ever study showing how new pollution controls on the kilns, coal plants, and compressors could bring smog levels down enough to comply with the Clean Air Act. Our study was used by the Dallas Commissioners Court to pass a resolution requesting new controls on the East Texas coal plants in October. Had it not been for our new committee, there would have been no local officials involved in the DFW air quality planning process at all, and noaccountability for a state government that isn’t interested in our lungs.
Want to get just basic information about DFW air pollution? There are no dedicated environmental beat reporters left in DFW. Downwinders fills this gap as well, providing the only source of reliable and timely information on DFW air quality issues.
Need technical or organizing training? We do that too. Many of you know we just sponsored our first conference – the four-day Root and Branch Revue, featuring a graduating class of 70 grassroots activists from our first “University of Change.”
When you give to Downwinders, you fund the last line of defense between your lungs and a state government that doesn’t believe smog is that bad for you.
And when you give to Downwinders, you know you’re giving to a group with a two decade proven track record of getting results.
That’s our pitch. We get your donation. You get our best effort at protecting your lungs.
On behalf of myself, and the Downwinders at Risk board, thank you for your consideration.
Director, Downwinders at Risk
Long term exposure to small particulate pollution from combustion sources, specifically coal-fired power plants, is up to five time more likely to kill you through heart damage than other forms of natural or human-made "PM."
That's the conclusion of new comprehensive study comparing risks from breathing-in the tiniest specs of soot from combustion sources for over 450,000 Americans in 100 cities from 1984 to 2014. Published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this month to coincide with the Paris climate talks, the study has ten co-authors and promises to be a milestone in the long fight to reduce this form of pollution.
Combustion of any sort releases fine and ultra-fine particles of soot, or "Particulate Matter" in the often antiseptic regulatory-speak of environmental regulation. These specks differ from dust particles or fireplace soot in that they're much, much smaller and so can be inhaled deeper into the lungs, and then, even pass from the lungs into the blood steam to affect other organs and systems. It's their tiny size that makes PM pollution dangerous on its own. Over the last 30 years, scientists and public health officials have gone from being worried about PM 10 (10 microns or less), to PM 2.5 (2.5 microns or less – about 100th of the width of a human hair), to Ultra-fine Particles.
But soot from combustion also carries residues of whatever was being burned in the facility it came from, and this makes it doubly toxic. If you're burning coal, the soot might carry bits of Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium and Lead, for example. The new study says that difference is what really drives up risk for people breathing-in coal plant PM.
Locally, DFW is chock full of large industrial sources of combustible PM.
We're surrounded by five coal plants in an arc on its northeastern to southeastern side. That means we're downwind of their pollution, including their particulate matter pollution, most of the year. Their impact on local smog levels has recently been chronicled by Downwinders' study from UNT.
PM Pollution would follow approximately the same patterns although heavier particles fall closer to the source, while the really fine particles drift for hundreds or thousands of miles. Luminant’s 2013 Emissions Inventory submission reports 1400 tons of 2.5 particulate matter in a single year at its Big Brown plant. And that may be a severe underestimate. Big Brown’s two Units have exceeded the Texas SIP’s opacity limit of 30 percent on thousands of occasions over the past decade.
Luminant's Martin Creek plant released 2,018 pounds of mercury into the environment in 2013, according to the Toxic Release Inventory, and in fact Texas hosted the top three mercury polluters among all coal plants in the US that year.
Closer in, there's the three Midlothian cement plants with a total of four kilns now. Modernization and controls forced by 20 years of campaigning by Downwinders have brought the numbers down dramatically, but they're still huge facilities that deal in both a dusty raw material, and burning lots of coal and industrial wastes like tires and used oil, and even car parts, to turn that into a higher grade of raw material. When you burn exotic materials with coal, you turbocharge the toxicity of the PM pollution even more. In 2013, the last year the state has numbers posted online, the three cement plants released approximately 440 tons of 2.5 PM pollution.
But cement plants weren't included in the study and so the risk evaluations in it for DFW are underestimated.
Midlothian is also the home to the very large French-owned Amersteel (formally Chaparral Steel) secondary steel mill and steel mills were included as a source category in the study and were also associated with a higher mortality rate. Just about every 18-wheeler trailer you see on local highways loaded with crushed cars is headed to this facility – across the street from the TXI cement plant. Imagine the residues on the soot from melting down thousands of used cars into liquid metal. In 2013, the plant released 133 tons of PM 2.5.
But by far, the largest PM polluter in the DFW area, bar none is the Owens-Corning fibreglass plant in north Waxahahchie, along I-45. It released a whopping 300 tons of PM 2.5 pollution in 2013 alone. No other facility comes close – not the cement plants or the steel mill down 287. Not the GM plant in Arlington. It's not known how much of Owens-Corning PM is combusted however. It could be from the manufactiuring process.
Diesel engines in vehicles were also included, and the study found they has an association with higher mortality, but not nearly as significant as coal plants or steel mills. There's been a steady stream of studies tying highway pollution to respiratory and neurological illness among near-by populations, especially children. Most of the risk is assigned to PM pollution, and most of that is coming from diesels.
Just as important as the conclusion that coal-combusted particulate matter is significantly more dangerous than your average speck of dust is the study's indictment of current EPA risk assessments that operate on exactly the opposite assumption. The authors are critical that the Agency still weighs the risk of desert dust the same as combusted soot in computing long-term human health effects.
There are potentially enormous public heath and policy implications for North Texans in the study's conclusions.
First, the campaign to get the most modern anti-smog controls included in the latest DFW air plan has the side benefit of reducing PM pollution too. Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) on the cement kilns and coal plants decreases smog-forming pollution by up to 90%, and makes an effective additional PM catcher as well, increasing soot capture by 30-50%. The technology is particularly effective on the kind of PM that carries dangerous heavy metals like Mercury. Of course, retiring already-obsolete coal plants would eliminate the threat all together.
Likewise, electrification of compressors would not only lead to decreases in smog-forming emissions, but PM pollution from those sources as well.
Next, it means the already large public health costs of bad air in DFW just published by Dr. Robert Haley of UTSW in his own study are severely underestimated, since they were based on the EPA's own risk assessment software that doesn't weigh the harm of coal power plant PM differently from any other speck of PM 2.5. Adjust those numbers for the exposure to toxic soot and you could see a huge increase in lives lost, illness caused, and dollars spent.
Finally there are implications for almost very other source of combustion around – burning is bad. Where's there's a flame, a boiler, a furnace, a process that means burning something to get something in return, there's going to be PM pollution. What you burn is as important as how you burn it. Burn coal and get the residues of coal on the PM. Burn hazardous waste, and you get the residues from those wastes on the PM. Burn diesel fuel in your truck or car and get residues from that fuel mix packed away in your particulate matter.
As one of the major authors of the study said, if you want to do something about this kind of pollution – start with the most toxic forms of combusted PM. Those mostly come from large industrial sources – the coal plants, cement kilns, and compressors already in our sights because they're also smog polluters. We knew they were a problem. Now we know even more about why they're a bigger problem.
State officials and industry PR types thought they'd caught a break last summer when two things produced a much lower annual smog average, called a "Design Value."
Since it's a three-year rolling average of smog numbers, past years roll off as new ones come on. Smog numbers from 2011 that had been so high they'd sent the average soaring, were finally rolling off and wouldn't be included in the average.
Second, unusually cooler temperatures and rain kept a new round of numbers lower. Combined, these factors resulted in a significant decrease in the smog average for 2014.
But in 2015, a more typical summer, or at least August, is bringing the average back up (Over 60% of the 100 highest recorded levels of smog this summer occurred in the last 30 days). Smog levels are higher across the board this year than last. There are more monitors recording more "exceedences" of the national smog standard. Leading them all is the Denton monitor, which saw ozone levels rise on Thursday and then skyrocket on Friday. The numbers were so high on both days they moved the needle of the annual smog average, the DFW Design Value, up from 81 to 82 parts per billion (ppb) on Thursday and up to 83 ppb on Friday. The standard is 75 ppb.
Even though Houston has recorded higher smog numbers than DFW this year, 2014's lower smog numbers was even more anomalous for that city than for North Texas. Last year's much lower numbers in the Bayou City are canceling out this year's much higher numbers. So that in 2015, DFW's Denton monitor's annual average of 83 ppb is the highest in the State of Texas.
And that means that according to the official accounting of the Clean Air Act, DFW has dirtier air than Houston. And not for the first time.
It also means we're rolling backwards in terms of air quality progress. With at least a whole month of "ozone season" to go, DFW's smog average is now only a little lower than it was in 2009. It would only take one or two more bad days to raise the average again.
This is the second time in four years that DFW's smog average has increased during the implementation of a state clean air plan for the area. Neither plan required new controls on large industrial polluters significantly contributing to the problem, like the gas industry, East Texas coal plants, and Midlothian cement kilns. There may be some connection there.
Given the state's stellar two decade-old track record of never meeting a clean air plan deadline, its latest plan was always likely to fail. But a federal court roll back of the deadline to get to the 75 ppb standard at all DFW monitors, from 2018 to 2017, plus these new 2015 smog numbers, make it DOA in the real world.
However, in the regulatory world governing these things officially, the plan is still being reviewed by the EPA and, believe it or not, could get approved if citizens don't make a big stink.
Many clean air advocates cautioned that 2014 should be seen as a outlier, and this summer is justifying that caution. If the experts are right, climate change will mean future summers will be more like 2011 than 2014. We've got to have a more realistic approach to the goal of safe and legal air. The State of Texas will not provide that. EPA can.