What: EPA Rollback of Smog Standards – and Everything Else
Action: Submit Public Comments here ASAP
In accordance with Executive Order 13777, titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” establishing a federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,” the Trump EPA is now seeking ways to “repeal, replacement, or modify” existing regulations. Among the most prominent targets are newly-implemented smog standards and pillars of the Clean Air Act.
This follows a similar order in January, that despite coming out of the Commerce Department, was also squarely aimed at the EPA, with 48 of the 168 comments received specifically mentioning Clean Air Act regulations and 31 called for reconsidering the New Source Review process that insures continued progress in control technology.
Initially the conversation was between the regulated and regulators. But now comes the opportunity for the rest of us to officially comment. Since industry has had a considerable head start we need to make sure this public record can’t be used by the Trump Administration to justify the dismantling of the EPA.
Before they begin trying to take apart the EPA, the Trump Administration has to get public comment. You must submit your comments through the reguations.gov site. You must submit them on or before May 15, 2017.
In case you need a quick thumbnail “Hell No!,” here’s some language you can cut and past right into the regulations.gov text box online and be done with it:
As someone who lives in a region that hasn’t complied with the Clean Air Act since 1991, I reject any roll back of existing EPA regulations concerning federal ozone standards, as well as oil and gas facility emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, cement and coal plant emissions, or other large sources of air pollution. EPA should be working to protect public health, not conspiring with polluters to make regulations weaker or disappear. Improvements in air quality are documented to improve economic productivity and growth. Public health is the first priority. Keep your hands off current EPA regulations.
Trump’s Administrative Orders are just one front in the assault on Obama-era environmental regulations. Another tactic is refusing to defend new regs in court cases where industry is challenging them.
That’s exactly what happened in early April when the EPA backed out of arguing for the new 70 ppb ozone/smog standard in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that was slated to hear oral arguments. In its filing, the Agency stated, “At this time, EPA officials appointed by the new Administration are closely reviewing the 2015 Rule to determine whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it….Given the broad-reaching economic implications of the 2015 ozone standard, we are carefully reviewing the rule to determine whether it is in line with the pro-growth directives of this Administration,” an EPA spokesperson, J.P. Freire said.
As the Oklahoma Attorney General, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined Texas and eight other states in unsuccessfully fighting the initial implementation of the standards, which they said were unnecessary to protect human health. An EPA Science panel had concluded the opposite, stating lowering the standard from 75 to 70 parts per billion was the minimum necessary to protect health, and advised a more aggressive standard of 60-65 ppb, which even the Obama Administration recoiled from implementing before the 2012 election.
However, what the Trump Administration is now proposing is a roll back from the new 70 ppb standard, either by official repeal or unofficial non-enforcement, to the current 75 ppb, which will also probably be “loosely” enforced. That standard was found to be “not protective” of public health.
Because the Clean Air Act specifically says the standard must be science-based and any deviation will be headed to court, a permanent roll back is less likely than just ignoring the law, but the damage will be the same in the meantime.
In DFW this means that the current smog planning process, which had the potential to do so much good with a federal substitution of the state’s second do-nothing plan, is now DOA. That plan was another attempt to just get the region down to 75 ppb, the old standard. It didn’t even address the new 70 ppb standard now in jeopardy. We’re currently at a regional average of 80 ppb.
No EPA or state order will be overseeing the implementation of new controls on major sources affecting DFW air quality like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas coal plants or gas patch facilities, or action of any kind. Citizens will probably have to sue to get the EPA to even reject the state plan now – something it was already on the public record saying it was ready to do prior to November 20th. That rejection will, however, only trigger a rewrite by Austin. 14 million DFW lungs are now trapped by a vicious cycle of inaction that both the state and federal government are fueling.
Other attempts by the Administration to attack the efficacy of the Agency are more structural. Seemingly with no more than spite as a motivation, there was a report circulating last month the Chicago regional EPA office would be shut down and consolidated with its Kansas City peer, with a corresponding cut in staff and resources. That’s not likely to happen for a variety of reasons, but it shows the kind of opportunistic thinking driving Agency opponents to start a fire sale. This Administration will probably not withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, but it can be successful in blunting any EPA attempt at actual environmental protection.
That’s why it’s important not to let the opportunists at the Trump EPA win the day. We need to make sure they get a loud and clear message not to mess with the Clean air Act or anything else. Don’t hesitate. Communicate your outrage now, where it will be counted by both sides. Thanks.
On the eve of Earth Day, clean air group Downwinders at Risk announced the purchase of two portable, EPA-calibrated ozone monitors to initiate a citizen-based monitoring campaign in Wise County this summer, where state officials refuse to measure DFW smog.
“With the purchase of these brand new high-tech monitors, which reached the market only a few months ago, we become the first group in Texas to have the capability to go out in the field and do the job the State of Texas isn’t willing to do,” said Downwinders Chair Tamera Bounds.
Downwinders newest technology will be on display at this weekend’s Earth Day Texas at Fair Park, where it’ll be a featured part of the group’s information booth. Each monitor cost approximately $5,000, fits in the palm of your hand, and comes with EPA-certified calibration to ensure reliable readings.
Wise County became the newest member of DFW’s almost-30 year “non-attainment” area for smog, or ozone pollution, in 2012. But despite computer models showing the County having some of the highest smog levels North Texas, there’s still no smog monitor located there.
Surprisingly, EPA regulations don’t require even a single ozone monitor in every non-attainment county, and Wise County is the only one of the ten DFW non-attainment counties not to have one. Bounds and her fellow clean air activists don’t believe that’s a coincidence.
Currently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) picks the sites where smog monitors are located. Denton’s airport monitor has recorded the highest levels of smog in DFW the last few years. But because of wind direction and its large number of pollution sources, computer models predict even higher levels of smog in Wise County.
That’s important because the size and scope of local clean air plans are determined by how high or low smog readings are in North Texas. The higher the smog levels, the more cuts in pollution from coal plants, cement kilns, and gas industry facilities are required to comply with the Clean Air Act.
Not surprisingly, spoke persons for those industries claim such cuts aren’t needed, but the state has made the same claims despite evidence from their own computer models showing new controls could bring the area into compliance with the Clean Air Act for the first time since 1991. TCEQ also takes the position, contrary to the medical consensus, that smog isn’t bad for public health.
Bounds believes the TCEQ doesn’t want a smog monitor in Wise County precisely because it’d record even higher levels of the pollution than current monitors are picking up and trigger regulatory requirements to make bigger cuts.
“By not measuring smog in the place it’s predicted to be the worst, what we don’t know is hurting us,” she explained.
“Because TCEQ’s priority is to protect a handful of industrial polluters at the expense of seven million DFW residents we’re getting clean air plans based on one, rosier set of numbers, while the actual pollution levels are probably higher. That’s one reason why we’ve been in continual violation of the Clean air Act since 1991.”
Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck said the two monitors, and others the group is buying, would be used both in stand-alone stationary locations within the County and by vehicle and drone -based platforms. They can be adapted to provide wireless connections and be plugged-in to larger networks of citizen-based monitors – something already being designed by a consortium of local universities, municipalities, and citizen groups co-founded by Downwinders.
Besides giving the public and policymakers a more realistic view of DFW smog levels, Downwinders hope to put pressure on the EPA and the State to place one or more official ozone monitors in Wise County. Schermbeck said the group’s efforts at identifying patterns or hotspots in the County would help clean air advocates find the best place to put such a monitor.
Although the purchased monitors only arrived on the market in January, Downwinders’ Wise County Ozone Project has been over a year in planning.
It was as last year’s Earth Day Texas that Downwinders won a $3000 prize with its proposal to use small electronic air sensors combined with drone technology to provide better air pollution measurements across DFW. Wise County smog was one of the specific examples used in the presentation.
Downwinders used the Earth Day Texas funding as seed money to attract other support to fund its own North Texas CLEAN Air Force – a citizen science campaign whose first target is Wise County smog. With the purchase of the monitors, it’s believed to be the only citizens’ group in the state with the ability to independently measure ozone pollution with its own devices, much less with EPA-calibrated instruments.
Schermbeck says the group is looking to recruit both researchers who want to lend their professional help to the project, and those people who just want to help do their part in a local fight for cleaner air.“ Sadly, this is what it’s come down to in 2017 Texas: residents having to organize themselves into performing basic public health functions usually carried out by their state government.”
Somewhere deep in the cubicled bowels of the Region 6 EPA offices in downtown Dallas lies a draft of a letter to the State of Texas telling Austin it’s proposed clean air plan for DFW is inadequate and must be re-written.
It likely goes through the litany of well-known public objections the EPA has about the plan, originally expressed while it was being drafted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:
- The state’s computer air modeling’s predictions of drops in pollution are “unrealistic.”
- The state’s plan doesn’t do anything about pollution from the old East Texas coal plants despite evidence “strongly supporting” the link between their poisons and DFW smog.
- Air quality monitors in the gas patch are lagging behind other DFW area monitors in showing decreases in smog over the last decade, indicating pollution from gas patch facilities is slowing air quality progress, but the state’s plan doesn’t reduce it either.
- Despite a brand new state-of-the-art pollution control system that could cut smog pollution by 70-90% being voluntarily installed at one cement kiln in Midlothian, the state is not requiring the other three kilns install the same technology.
Which is all longhand for “this plan is not cutting enough air pollution to work.”
The current standard for smog, or ozone pollution, is 75 parts per billion over an eight hour period. That’s supposed to come down to 70 in the next few years as a new, more protective federal standard is applied.
DFW’s eight hour average is 80 parts per billion at the start of this “ozone season.” (based on the numbers coming out of the Denton air quality monitor) The North Texas region has never been in compliance with the smog standard, even when it was 120 parts per billion over just an hour. That’s 26 years of bad air and counting.
The state’s plan is supposed to be response to this problem, but for the second time in a row, Texas has written an air plan for DFW that does nothing at all.
Before November, that plan was going to be rejected, in part, or whole, as insufficient by EPA, sent back to Austin for a re-write and then, fingers crossed, Downwinders and others were hoping to persuade the Agency to substitute its own federal plan of action. That would have been a first for DFW.
In December, Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel, Dallas Council member Sandy Greyson, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, staff representing Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey, members of the Dallas County Medical Society and Downwinders members all pleaded with EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry to try and persuade him to reject the state plan and implement a federal one before Inauguration Day.
Curry’s response was to say that timeline was too fast – despite having had the state plan in-house at EPA for over a year, and access to its conclusion for even longer. Plus, he said reassuringly, they’d all gone through “transitions” from one administration to another. Everything would be all right.
Donald Trump will not be able to revive the coal industry. He will not be able to revoke President Obama’s climate change policies en masse without court fights. Meta national and international trends are beyond his gutted EPA’s reach to impact. But he can keep seven million DFW residents from breathing safe and legal air for the next decade.
Right now, the state clean air plan for DFW is still parked at EPA. Because of the change in administrations, the staff is probably being told to do the math twice and make only the most conservative calls. That may mean rejecting only certain parts of the plan, albeit critical ones, like the section that promises to get down to 75 ppb by the end of this summer.
Yes, that was the original goal of the plan way back when it started being put together in 2014-15. If we have another cooler, wetter summer it’s possible we could get close. If we have a typical DFW summer, the smog might get worse, as it did the last time a state clean air plan that did nothing was being implemented in 2011.
Besides rejecting the “attainment” part of the attainment plan, the EPA could also reject the way the state defined new control technologies as impractical or too costly despite being widely used in industry. One example is electrification of compressors in the gas patch. Even the gas and oil’s industry’s own textbooks cite this one simple switch in power sources, from diesel or gas to electricity to power huge, locomotive size pipeline compressors, as being the standard fix in metropolitan areas with bad air.
But the state’s rejecting requiring electrification because it says it just isn’t practical to expect that those compressors can find power close enough to the grid to plug-in….in the fourth largest urban area in the country.
Another example are the three Midlothian cement plants, still the single largest sources of air pollution in DFW.
One cement plant operator has voluntarily installed what’s considered to be a state-of-the art pollution control system that’s capable of reducing smog-forming emissions by 70-90%. This system is also being used with great effect in Europe on almost a dozen plants. But the state’s plan doesn’t take note of this sea-change in technology and doesn’t require the other three cement plants in Midlothian to install it, saying it hasn’t been proven yet – even though it’s in full scale operation in a Texas cement kiln right now.
But while the local EPA staff may have felt more confident about making those calls on new pollution controls in a Clinton administration, it’s unlikely they’ll advocate for them now, knowing their new bosses in DC will not approve.
So they’ll put a big’ ol “REJECT” stamp on the state’s paperwork and and send it back to Austin for a redo.
From where it will never see the light of day again.
Officially, when the EPA rejects a state clean air plan, it triggers a two-year deadline to come up with another one. So normally, the state would go through the motions and eventually churn out another plan, it would be found inadequate by EPA again, the whole thing would wind up in court and either the EPA and/or environmentalists would win some concessions.
But the EPA is transitioning from one smog standard to another. There’s a gap in enforcement of the old standard to get ready for the new one. So the State of Texas, which hasn’t even tried to write a serious clean air plan in decade, and doesn’t even believe smog is bad for you, will get a Mulligan from the EPA for not being able to produce a clean air plan for DFW that works.
Not only will the state of Texas not be penalized for writing an ineffective clean air plan, but if DFW is still not in compliance with the older 75 ppb smog standard by the end of this summer, it won’t be penalized for that either. Because now the EPA is switching over to the 70 ppb standard – and there are brand new deadlines for brand new clean air plans….for the State of Texas to willfully ignore.
Greg Abbott will not be punished for ignoring the law. The Texas Legislature will not be punished. Nobody at TCEQ will pay a price for once again not doing their job.
No, the only people being punished for the state’s aggressive neglect of its air are DFW’s residents, who must breathe the results of that neglect for almost half of every year now. Make no mistake about it, it’s a statistical certainty that neglect is killing people and making them sick. Dr. Robert Haley’s landmark study using the state and EPA’s own data shows that number could be as high as 100 victims a year.
Now add a Trump EPA to the mix.
DFW is not in compliance with the current/old 75 ppb smog standard. The Texas plan to get it in compliance is inadequate. The leftover Obama EPA will say so and send it back to Austin. The state will sit on the plan six months, then resubmit it. A Trump EPA will now find this previously inadequate plan quite adequate, even if the region still isn’t in compliance with the old standard.
But wait, there’s more.
You’d think a region in continual non-compliance with the Clean Air Act for almost three decades would be a priority for receiving an effective clean air plan. You’d be wrong.
In fact, since DFW average is currently 80 ppb of smog, and not 81 ppb, the state of Texas does not even have to submit a clean air plan for DFW until AFTER the region fails to meet the new 70 ppb standard by 2020, at which point Texas will have two more years to write another plan that does nothing.
This is how 80,000 votes spread over three Midwestern states can poison the air for seven million Texans.
The one thing that could throw a wrench into this scenario? Court cases filed by environmentalists to make sure EPA doesn’t allow backsliding in DFW air quality. But that is a very thin green line on which your lungs can pin hope, and it will always be after the barn door has already been left for too long.
We’ve gone from being on the precipice of what would have been the first real pollution reduction plan for DFW in a decade, to now looking at a decade of no action at all outside that which we can generate as citizens defending ourselves. In 2017, Environmental protection in Texas is very much a Do-It-Yourself proposition.
As the region’s only group charged with the job of protecting our air, Downwinders is looking at starting from scratch and reassessing our strategy. We have to find new ways to leverage our need for safe and legal air. We worked hard for over three years to win a good air plan. Now it’s back to the drawing boards.
One of the things we’re putting a lot of effort and money into building is our own independent air quality monitoring network. There are only 20 smog monitors for all of North Texas, half of which are used in rural areas for boundary readings. There are no smog monitors in Wise County, despite all the computer models showing it to be where the highest levels of the pollution are probably located.
If we can do a better job of documenting bad air, we make the case for why we need more actions to reduce air pollution, instead of do-nothing plans from Austin.
You've probably have never heard of the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee but if you live in DFW or another "non-attainment" area for smog, you are governed by its judgment about what does, or does not, constitute a "safe" level of exposure to smog.
The mission of the Committee is to periodically review the latest scientific literature on the subject of smog pollution and determine if the federal standard needs to be adjusted accordingly. Its members, all experts in their fields, serve as volunteers to advise the EPA. Although its recommendations are not automatically enforced, they carry a lot of weight and often determine when and by how much the standard will be changed.
Since 1991, based on wave after wave of studies on air pollution, the standard has been repeatedly revised downward, from a one-hour exposure level of 120 parts per billion to an eight-hour exposure level of 75 ppb currently, soon to come down to 70 ppb.
The original recommendation of the Committee this time around was for the standard to be lowered to between 65 and 70 ppb. The Obama Administration, after ungracefully backing-out of such a change prior to the 2012 election leading to the departure of then EPA chief Lisa Jackson, agreed to a 70 ppb standard last year. It's expected to be enforced at the beginning of the next decade.
Because of the volunteer nature of the job, there's always turnover on the Scientific Committee. This past year a new slot opened up and the EPA was taking nominations to fill it. Seeing an opportunity to put one of their own on the body, the Oil and Gas industry, as well as many others, supported none other than Texas Committee on Environmental Quality staff toxicologist Michael Honeycutt for the job.
This is akin to nominating Donald Trump to be a Sorority Mom.
Honeycutt has turned his office, never held by anyone particularly citizen-friendly before, into a shameless base camp for every industry fighting new environmental regulations of any kind. He is the go-to contrarian when independent scientists conclude new, lower levels of exposure to a poison are justified, whether it's Benzene, Arsenic or smog. Honeycutt never met a toxin he didn't want to shill for.
In the case of smog, Honeycutt hired Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Gradient Inc. at the tune of about $1 million in taxpayer money, to help him sell the idea that smog isn't that bad for you and a new lower standard for exposure was completely and utterly unnecessary to protect human health. Gradient has a impeccable reputation – for being Big Tobacco's bought and paid researchers whenever it needed somebody in a white coat to talk about how exaggerated the risks of smoking were.
Teaming-up, industry, Gradient and Honeycutt hit the road as EPA was mulling over a new ozone standard, spreading the gospel of smog denial. They mounted a campaign to block the EPA from implementing the 70ppb standard. They failed. But they weren't through.
For sheer gall, their next move can't be beat. When a slot on the smog standard-deciding Scientific Advisory Committee opened up, industry decided to nominate Honeycutt to the job. Who better to decide the level of harm the public should be exposed to than the guy who says there's nothing to worry about?
Honeycutt had the support of industry and its supporters in Congress. Oklahoma Senator Jim "Snowball" Inhofe is a big fan. How could he not get the job?
Alas, it might come as a shock, but the Obama EPA did not appoint Honeycutt to the position.
Instead, it decided to pick Donna Kenski, the data analysis director for the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium. for the open seat.
As you can imagine, the air is heavy with disappointment on Congress Ave in Austin and K Street in DC. Here's the reaction of one of industry's paid spokesmen, who coincidentally happens to be that same US Senator who backed him,
"It's disappointing EPA overlooked so many well-qualified candidates who would have brought much needed geographic diversity, fresh perspectives, and balance to the powerful CASAC panel," Sen. Jim Inhofe told ME in a statement. "The Obama-EPA has once again ignored established policies and public input on candidates and instead has hand-picked an ally to fill one of its last advisory appointments of this administration."
This is the kind of small, but important battle that takes place all the time in government. When you think about voting for president, the EPA's Scientific Advisory Committee is probably not the first thing you consider. But it makes a huge difference whether such a committee is headed up by real scientists, or junk scientists like Michael Honeycutt. Smog standards can save thousands of lives across the country every year. Those lives depend on the EPA using the best science, not the best science money can buy.
Holcim is the first cement plant in the nation to voluntarily install an industrial catalytic converter called SCR on its smokestack, significantly cutting smog-forming air pollution in DFW.
But despite operating only 26 miles from EPA headquarters, the Agency and State of Texas still claim the technology isn't "feasible"
Downwinders is proud to announce Midlothian's Holcim cement plant is the first in the nation to voluntarily install pollution control equipment significantly cutting smog-forming air pollution, along with other dangerous emissions.
"Not many people may notice, but Friday is a big day for air breathers in DFW, as well as for everyone in the country who lives downwind of a cement plant," said Tamera Bounds, Chair of Downwinders at Risk, the clean air group that's been relentless in its pursuit of the technology for North Texas since 2001.
Friday marks the official deadline for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant to have its Selective Catalytic Reduction, or SCR system, up and running on one of its two giant kilns in order to be compliant with EPA emissions limits.
Although almost a dozen cement plants in Europe have installed the technology over the last twenty years and it's widespread in the American coal industry, Holcim is so far the only cement plant in the U.S. to install SCR on one of its kilns without a government mandate.
A pilot test using SCR at Midwest cement plant was required by a Department of Justice enforcement action in 2010. Results show smog-forming pollution was cut by at least 80% – roughly twice as much as pollution controls now in use in the US, including Midlothian. In Europe, SCR has a track record of removing 80-90% or more of the smog-forming pollution that has kept DFW in violation of the Clean Air Act since 1991. It also cuts the emissions of air toxics, particulate matter, and dioxins by double-digits.
With three cement plants and four kilns, Midlothian hosts the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the US, and the largest "stationary" sources of air pollution in DFW. Since the late 1980's, the city has become a national battleground over cement plant pollution. First, over the use of hazardous waste as "fuel" for the local kilns, then over the closing of dirtier, obsolete "wet" kilns contributing to smog and climate change, and now over how fast new kilns can be updated to reflect 21st technology. ￼
Bounds and others say the installation of SCR on all four kilns in Midlothian would mean a huge benefit to public health for residents in Tarrant County, where the predominant winds push the plumes from the kilns. A 2009 Cook Children's Hospital study showed childhood asthma levels highest directly downwind of the cement kilns.
The demand for the technology is a central part of the group's push to replace the current State-sponsored anti-smog plan with a more effective, and protective, one from EPA. So far, Dallas County, the City of Dallas, two Congressional Representatives and a State Legislator agree with them. But incredibly, the Agency maintains the SCR technology Holcim has freely invested in to reduce pollution and is already operating less than 30 miles from its regional headquarters is not "technically feasible."
Downwinders and other groups in the DFW Clean Air Network regional alliance are challenging EPA's refusal to recognize a game-changing pollution control technology that could help DFW finally put its smog problems behind it a well as offering similar help to other parts of the country downwind of cement plants.
"It's rare these days to find the EPA embracing Texas' approach to ignoring advances in environmental science, but that's exactly what happening," said Bounds. "Both State and EPA officials are acting like 3rd Graders – closing their eyes and humming loudly, pretending this time-tested technology isn't operating right in front of them. But it does, and it's here to stay."
Bounds wants the EPA to take note of the cuts in pollution triggered by Holcim's operation of its SCR system and then hold ALL the Midlothian plants to the same modern standard. "You have a piece of equipment that is setting a higher bar for pollution control. Every cement kiln in DFW should have to meet that higher bar now. No other anti-pollution strategy makes sense."
It's been a long and circuitous route to getting SCR installed in a Midlothian cement kiln. Along the way, the region's clean air activists moved the entire nation closer to widespread use of this control technology.
North Texans first heard about the use of SCR in the cement industry through a citizens group fighting a proposed new cement plant in New York state in 2001.They'd commissioned a study from a NYC engineering firm identifying European cement plants that had already successfully installed the technology.
Downwinders tried and failed to include SCR in the anti-smog plan in 2003. It then used a 2005 settlement agreement with the State over the failure of that plan to get the then Rick Perry-controlled Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to perform an independent assessment of the technology. That landmark study produced results that are still reverberating today. In it, five independent experts chosen by Downwinders, the cement industry, and the State declared SCR to be ready for prime time.
"SCR is a commercially available technology. It offers the possibility of significant NOx reduction at the plants in Ellis County. As an 'add on' technology, which can achieve 90% or greater NOx reduction, with demonstrated performance at hundreds of coal fired power plants, SCR is a viable technology that is available for both dry and wet kilns."
That conclusion, from cement industry experts, in a TCEQ study, is now a decade old.
At the same time they were working to bring SCR to Midlothian, Downwinders also led the fight for new EPA emission limits on cement kilns that burn hazardous waste. A 2009 national hearing at DFW Airport attracted over 200 people. Those emission limits clamped down on air toxics. Holcim couldn't meet them without adding controls. They choose an SCR unit on one kiln and a thermal oxidizer (re: flame) on the other to try and stay in compliance. Even though Holcim installed SCR to address air toxics, or Volatile Organic Compounds and not smog pollution, the effect on emissions will be the same.
Meanwhile, the 2006 TCEQ study and subsequent push by Downwinders for SCR in Midlothian helped persuade the EPA to require the pilot test in 2010. That test, as well as Holcim's experience in Europe, set the stage for SCR's official debut on the Texas prairie on Friday.
"It's been a long fight, but change is hard," said Bounds, "and it doesn't happen in a straight line."
Help Us Celebrate This Victory That Was 15 Years in the Making
Please consider contributing $25 or more on "GIVING DAY" NEXT THURSDAY to keep us on the front lines of change another 15 years.
Giving Day is an all day online giving event sponsored by the Communities Foundation of Texas.
Downwinders will have our own online Giving Day page where you can click and give from 6 am through 12 Midnight next Thursday.
Every contribution of $25 or more is matched or extended by the Foundation.
This year, we need your support to keep our full-time staff in the field, as well as fund our 2nd annual Root and Branch Revue for activists, and assemble our North Texas Clean Air Forceof air-monitoring drones.
Oh yeah, we're also opening a school for organizers in January.
We're based in DFW. All our board members are from DFW. Our priority is DFW air. Your contribution stays in North Texas to fund the fight for clean air in North Texas.
We know you're being assaulted by Giving Day appeals from all the local non-profits, and there are lots and lots of good causes. We only request that you ask yourself how many other local groups can repeatedly pull off meaningful victories with so few resources?
We were able to bring SCR to Midlothian with your help. We need your help again next Thursday. We think we've earned it.
State Representative Chris Turner, whose District 101 spans west Grand Prairie and east Arlington between Dallas and Fort Worth became the first state elected official to urge EPA to reject the current state anti-smog plan for DFW and substitute one of its own.
In a letter to EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, Turner used language echoing the sentiments of US Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.
"While I hope that the TCEQ will take the public comments it received by EPA, the Texas Medical Association, and others into consideration and require additional emissions controls in the final SIP revision it submits to EPA, I ask you to consider rejecting the state's plan use of a Federal Implementation Plan if your agency decides that the final SIP revision is insufficient and the state will not negotiate in good faith."
The entire letter can be read here.
Besides Johnson and Veasey's letters, Dallas County and the City of Dallas have voted in favor of resolutions condemning the currently proposed plan has being inadequate. More cities and counties are expected to pass similar resolutions as elected bodies come back from summer breaks.
Members of the DFW Clean Air Network (DFW CAN) – Downwinders at Risk, the Sierra Club, Beyond Coal, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness and Livable Arlington – are also out and about obtaining letters like Turner's from other state and federal elected officials.
Turner's district is directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plants and includes numerous natural gas wells and facilities. Gas sources are now the fourth largest contributor to DFW smog.
According to EPA, the state plan arrived at the EPA's doorstep August 8th, but it's already DOA.
Although ozone season is far from over and it's been a relatively mild "season" so far, we know in its second full year out of the three years allotted for success, the state air plan will, at best, have brought down ozone levels by 1 ppb from 2015 levels, to 80 ppb. We're supposed to be at 75.
The parrot is dead. We're just waiting for the state to admit it – or the EPA to shut the farce down.
Meanwhile, the more political support on the ground in DFW for an EPA alternative that might actually reduce emissions from major sources in North Texas like gas, cement kilns, and coal plants, the more likely it is for the Agency to accept the challenge, and endure all the pushback from Austin it'll get if it decides to take over the job.
If you're interested in trying to get your city, county, or state or federal elected officials to join the band wagon and reject the state plan, write or call us and we'll work with you in getting something accomplished that can add to the momentum.
Last year the regional peak went from 80 to 81 ppb based on a rolling three-year average of readings from the Denton monitor. Even though we've only had one or two awful ozone weeks this year so far, those were enough to establish a 2016 Denton monitor average of 80 ppb going into what are tradtionally the smoggier months of August and September. So two years in, the state's plan can do no better than get us back to where we started in 2014 – and might do considerably worse.
Officially, the state's only hope for last-minute success is a drastic drop in smog at the Denton monitor next year in order to swing the three-year running average. Those hopes are hanging by a tailpipe with the scheduled introduction by the federal governement next summer of a new, lower-sulfur gasoline mixture for all U.S. cars and trucks. Austin's "plan," such as it is, is to ride the coattails of that change in gasoline formula in hopes its widespread use will significantly lower smog numbers thoughout DFW.
EPA agrees with Texas that they'll be a decline in vehicle-generated smog due to the new gas mix. However, it disagrees that it alone will be able to bring DFW into compliance with the Clean Air Act by the end of ozone season in 2017. At this point, the Denton monitor would have to have a 2017 fourth-highest reading of 64 ppb or lower to come in at a running average of 75 ppb. Not impossible, but it requires an unprecedented 10-11 ppb annual drop from the current average, much less the higher one that August or September might deliver.
The state can keep saying the clock is still ticking on their plan, but the numbers are already in, and they aren't cooperating.
This kind of math is the reason why Downwinders, the Sierra Club and other groups are requesting EPA to reject the state plan that now has arrived at its doorstep. It's the reason both Dallas County and the City of Dallas passed resolutions requesting the same, and the reason why both Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey wrote a letter directly to EPA asking that the agency step in and do the job the state will not do.
Rejection of the bad state plan is the necessary first step in setting the stage for a more comprehensive EPA plan – one that would include all the large sources of smog pollution affecting DFW that have been untouched by state air plans over the last decade: like the oil and gas industry, the Midlothian cement kilns, and the East Texas coal plants.
We're tired of failure. We've experienced 25 years of it. We're experiencing it again this year. If you're tired of dirty air too, please contact us about how your city and county can pass a resolution asking the EPA to reject the state's plan and start writing one that will actually work.
Sandy Greyson, supported by a citizens army, pulled off the unthinkable and delivered a rousing 15-0 endorsement from the Dallas City Council for her resolution calling for a better smog clean-up plan for DFW than the one the state is currently pursuing.
Despite last-minute objections from coal plant operator Luminant and the Oil and Gas industry lobbying groups, Greyson wrangled the entire city council into agreeing the region can do better than a hands-off approach to major industrial polluters. Dallas County voted in support of a similar resolution in May.
It wasn't quite lions laying down with lambs, but it was close. She secured the votes of stalwart green council members Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston, and Adam Medrono, as well as council conservatives Jenifer Staubach-Gates, Lee Kleinman, Rickey Callahan, and Adam McGough. Southern Dallas members found common ground with their North Dallas peers. Trinity toll road opponents and supporters who don't even speak to each other all spoke in praise of Greyson and the resolution.
It wasn't just the final tally, as impressive an accomplishment as that is, that was shocking. It was all the different succinct points of view used to justify the resolution's passage. Philip Kingston berated the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for having morphed into an Orwellian institution, where "Freedom is Slavery, and Smog is Clean AIr." Lee Kleinman cited conservative economic principles to conclude "when a business takes clean air and makes it dirty, it should pay." Carolyn Arnold spoke to her disillusionment with the state over the Columbia meat-packing facility. Jenifer Staubach-Gates' decision was informed by her background as a school nurse.
As the last speaker before the historic vote, Mayor Mike Rawlings gave as good a summary of the tough position the current state strategy is putting local governments as you will hear. Dallas is stuck in the middle of "a game of chicken" between an inadequate plan from Austin and the requirements of the Clean Air Act. And the intent of the resolution is to put an end to that game and get serious about developing a practical cost-effective way to get clean air. It was the discussion's drop-the-mic moment.
There was also a marked diversity among citizens showing-up at City Hall to speak in favor of the resolution. Latino, black and white citizens joined ranks. Usual suspects Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Downwinders at Risk, were joined by Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, as well new neighborhood group, West Dallas 1. Despite pre-vote visits and letters, no opponents of the resolution signed-up to speak.
If you ever doubted your emails to city council have an impact, this vote is proof-positive they do. Mayor Rawlings described the campaign leading up to the resolution's passage as a "textbook example" of how citizens and policymakers can craft progress on important issues, specifically calling out the hundreds of emails he and the rest of the council received, and the methodical process supporters pursued.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to send an email or make or call. You helped make this good thing happen. Everyone gets an "A" in Citizenship this month.
A win in the non-attainment area's largest city would have given the proponents of a new air plan confidence going into other North Texas communities in search of similar resolutions. A 15-0 vote from Dallas turbocharges that effort. This is a strong signal that local governments need to act, regardless of ideology, to protect their own self interests. It will be heard throughout the region by other Mayors and elected officials.
Where do we go next? Good question. Local officials are talking amongst themselves to decide where similar resolutions should be introduced next, but let us know if you're interested in helping us pass one in your city or county.
And, look, if you think this was a worthwhile thing, that we made some kind of progress today, then won't you please consider dropping $25 or more in the tip jar?
We win these victories with scant resources, that are, frankly, scantier these days. We want to keep rolling. Help us keep the wheels greased. DONATE HERE.
Thanks. Onward thru the smog.
Rally in Support of Clean Air
Tomorrow- Wednesday, June 15
9:30 AM City Hall flag Room
5th floor at Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla
Lon Burnam, Former Texas State Representative
Ronnie Mestas, President of West Dallas One
Sonja Cooper and Adenike Higgins, asthma patients
Cherelle Blazer, Sierra Club Beyond Coal
If DFW is to have any chance of meeting federal smog standards before the end of this decade, it must have a better plan to clean the air than the one being currently proposed by the State of Texas.
To get that better plan, local governments must tell the state and EPA to go back to the drawing board and cut pollution from all major industrial sources, including the Midlothian cement kilns, huge natural gas compressors, and the East Texas coal plants. According to the state's own data and modeling, cutting pollution from these major source is a cost-effective strategy which can significantly lower smog levels in DFW.
On Wednesday the Dallas city council is voting on a resolution that tells the State of Texas and EPA we must do better than another 25 years of failure. It urges the state and federal government to get serious about cutting pollution from major sources. Reportedly, Luminant, (the old TXU), assisted by the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, is attempting to persuade the City Council to reject the clean air resolution based on its call for modern controls on the aging East Texas coal plants Luminant operates.
As of today, we don't have a reliable vote count. We must not take support for granted. Please join us tomorrow morning at City Hall to rally for clean air to breathe 365 days a year.
Sign up to speak to the council in favor of the clean air resolution by calling the City Secretary's office (214-670-3738) and telling them you want to speak for "Item 12" on the consent agenda. If you don't sign up before tomnorrow, you won't get to speak. Talking points are in this post.
This may be the most important clean air vote the City Council makes all year. It can create momentum for other cities to pass similar resolutions. It can send Austin and Washington a powerful message. But we need your help to make it happen.
Only 48 hours after the single worst day for DFW smog since 2013, coal plant operator Luminant reportedly began a lobbying campaign to scuttle Sandy Greyson's Dallas city council clean air resolution requesting a better anti-smog plan.
As a result, Item #12 “A resolution authorizing the City of Dallas to communicate its positions and requests regarding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ's) proposed State Implementation Plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth Region ozone pollution to the State of Texas, the TCEQ, and other agencies” is expected to be pulled from Wednesday’s unanimous voice-vote “consent agenda” and placed in line with other items generating discussion and dissent. It may be a long day – and that's exactly what the resolution opponents want in order to wear us down.
Luminant was said to be contacting city council members over the weekend, reportedly with the assistance of representatives of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. In the past the company has stated it objects to the costs of installing the kind of modern anti-smog controls, referenced by the city’s resolution, at its three aging East Texas coal plants, despite their large smog-causing emissions. We don't know how successful the company's lobbying has been, or how much trouble the resolution is in.
If you're mad about this news, good. Here's what we need you to do:
1. If you haven't already, please follow this link and send a "click and send" ready-to-go email to all 15 Dallas city council members urging them to vote for the clean air resolution. You can add your own language at the bottom if you want.
2. Please sign up to speak in favor of clean air and the resolution on Wednesday
You must call the City Secretary''s office at 214-670-3738 to reserve a 3 minute speaking slot. Make sure you sign up for Item #12 on the consent agenda. If you don't sign-up in advance, you won't get to speak up on Wednesday!
We need to be there beginning at 9am, but we don't know how soon the resolution will come up in the agenda now. We know this makes it inconvenient. Again – not by accident. We've outlasted them before. We need to do it again.
3. Emphasize these Talking Points in your emails and speaking on Wednesday
All the air pollution control measures referenced in the city's clean air resolution are currently available, off-the-shelf technology, already in use in the world, US, and even Texas. Nothing exotic. Nothing experimental. There are coal plants and cement kilns with catalytic converters. There are already electric compressors. The resolution says only that the state should consider applying these technologies uniformly – to ALL major industrial sources affecting DFW air quality.
All the air pollution measures referenced in the city's clean air resolution are among the most cost-effective that can be taken, costing a small fraction of other measures already adopted. Putting controls on the coal plans and kilns costs $2-3,000 per ton of smog-forming pollution removed vs state programs spending $10-13,000 per ton. It's cheaper to prevent pollution at a dozen or so smokestacks than millions of tailipipes.
Most smaller Dallas businesses are already heavily-regulated for emissions because they're located within the DFW "non-attainment area," for smog, while the East Texas coal plants creating a huge chunk of that smog continue to be exempt from the same kind of regulations because they're located 90-100 miles outside the non-attainment area. They have more impact, but less regulation. That's not fair to Dallas-based businesses, or DFW''s seven million residents. We need small business owners to say the Chamber and Luminant doesn't speak for all of the Dallas business community.
The costs of installing new controls are small compared to the economic and public health costs of not installing them. Dr. Robert Haley's recent study for the Dallas County Medical Society concluded a drop of just 5 ppb in North Texas smog levels could save $650,000,000 in lost economic growth, and prevent hundreds of ER admissions, and 100 premature deaths – EVERY YEAR.
Luminant is taking the position that their three old coal plants are more important than the health of 1.2 million Dallas residents, and the other 5.5 million DFW citizens who breathe dirty air. The company is asking the Dallas City Council to place its interests above everyone else's.
DFW has been in continual violation of the Clean Air Act for smog since 1991. Our childhood asthma rates are higher than the state OR national average. EPA has already said the current plan doesn't do enough to lower smog levels to meet the federal standard. But opponents of the resolution have no alternative. They want the City of Dallas to sit on its hands and do nothing about 25 years of chronic smog – no matter how many people are affected by bad air. Does the City of Dallas really want to send the message that it doesn't care about clean air only a week before it hosts its own "Clean AIr Action Day" event at City Hall Plaza next Friday?
Some critics of these resolutions have argued they're only symbolic requests for cleaner air, and don't mean that much, or carry that much weight. If Luminant's reported response is any indication, it thinks this resolution is a threat to plans to sell-off those aging coal plants as part of its parent company's bankruptcy. We must be doing something right to engender this kind of alleged opposition from North Texas' King of Coal.
DON'T LET BIG COAL WIN THIS FIGHT
SPEAK UP IN SUPPORT OF CLEAN AIR – Call the City Secretary and Register to speak on Wednesday
THIS WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15th
9 AM DALLAS CITY HALL 1500 MARILLA