In Europe, LafargeHolcim is a multinational cement manufacturer based in Switzerland and France – two countries on the cutting edge of climate crisis planning and members of the progressive European Union. The Company portrays itself as a climate-conscientious corporate citizen, to the point of its Swiss CEO declaring the reduction of CO2 emissions as his first, most important priority.
In Midlothian Texas, LafargeHolcim runs the most conventionally dirty cement plant in Texas and is seeking a permit that could make it one of the most climate-hostile one as well. In fact, there’s some reason to believe the Holcim plant in North Texas is preparing to burn by-products from either the Canadian Tar Sands, the Permian Oil Field, or both, as fuel.
Baking rock to make cement takes a lot of heat. Regardless of how new or old a cement kiln is, regardless of the pollution controls a kiln has, every cement maker in the world still has to employ the same age-old process of applying a 2000 degree open flame to a mix of limestone and other ingredients. A third or more of the cost of running a cement plant is keeping that open flame consistently hot enough to do the job.
This is the reason cement kilns will always try to find
cheap, free, even profitable sources of fuel for that flame. Hazardous and industrial wastes that can be diverted from incinerators or landfills can be burned in cement kilns for slightly less money because they don’t have to meet the same standards. Used tires and oil. Lottery tickets. Dashboards from cars. Even municipal waste is now being burned in kilns.
Burning anything causes air pollution. Burning wastes causes lots of conventional and exotic air pollution, including CO2. But just baking limestone rock also releases a lot of stored CO2. Even if there was some was to make cement without a flame, the heat needed would still release tons of CO2.
Worldwide the cement industry is estimated to be responsible for 5 to 7% of the planet’s CO2 emissions – larger then the airline industry. If the industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter on earth, behind the United States and China.
Companies like LafargeHolcim are facing both public and financial pressures to reduce that number. In July European funds managing $2 trillion in assets called on cement companies to slash their greenhouse gas emissions, warning that a failure to do so could put their business models at risk. The mangers specifically mentioned LafargeHolcim and urged it to adopt the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and align itself with the Paris Climate Accords.
LaFarge Holcim has responded by initiating a series of technical innovations and pilot projects under the banner of “The Plant of Tomorrow” to prove its forward thinking.
Almost 300 facilities around the globe are targeted for inclusion in one or more of these “Plant of Tomorrow” projects, including a Canadian kiln installing a carbon-capture pilot project, an Ohio kiln building three wind turbines to secure its electrical needs, and kilns burning industrial waste as “low carbon” (if not low toxic) fuel.
Left out of this mix so far is Holcim’s woe-be-gone Midlothian plant. You might call it Holcim’s “Plant of Yesterday.” Despite having lots of stiff competition, Holcim not only operates the dirtiest cement plant out of the three doing business in Midlothian, but it’s the dirtiest in the entire state.
Holcim’s Midlothian plant is the largest Carbon Monoxide (CO) polluter among all 10 Texas cement plants – a sign of poor combustion. It’s the second largest Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) polluter among the bunch, emitting almost twice as much smog pollution as the other two Midlothian cement plants combined. It’s the largest PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter) polluter by far – almost 100 tons a year separate it from second place. It’s the largest Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) polluter by a large margin and releases four times as much Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than the next highest plant. Almost all 2017 pollution numbers for Holcim have gone up over the last five years. A plant that was already bad is getting worse.
Now add Holcim’s request for a new permit to burn 100% Petroleum Coke in one of its two kilns.
Pet Coke is a byproduct of oil refining. It’s a concentrated carbon solid residue that is left behind after the refining process has converted the bulk of the oil into liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
Pet Coke is like coal, but dirtier. Pet Coke looks and acts like coal, but it has even higher carbon emissions than coal. On a per-unit of energy basis Pet Coke emits 5 to 10 percent more carbon dioxide than coal. A ton of Pet Coke yields on average 53.6 percent more co2 than a ton of coal.
As well as significantly higher co2 emissions, Pet Coke also has high sulfur and toxic metals content than coal.
Because its a waste product, Pet Coke is cheap for Holcim to buy or it could even be free if a refinery wanted to get rid of its supply. And now, thanks to the exploitation of the Tar Sands and the oil boom in the Permian the US has lots and lots of Pet Coke. The heavy oil refining capacity in America is now the largest in the world, with over 40 percent of the global market. Much of that production takes place on the Texas Gulf Coast in huge new expanded refinery complexes like Motiva and Total in Port Arthur. The capacity to produce Pet Coke in U.S. refineries has doubled since 1999. In fact, the annual production of Pet Coke is so large these days, it’s outstripped most of the usual uses for it and is “priced to move.”
Because Holcim wants to burn 100% Pet Coke, and it must have a reliable source to burn it 24/7, there’s reason to believe the company has signed a sweetheart deal with one or more refineries to supply it. Probably from the Gulf Coast, and probably from one of the refineries dealing in Canadian Tar Sands oil or Permian Basin product. Both are poster boys for irresponsible fossil fuel development with the Tar Sands and the Keystone Pipeline igniting modern Climate Crisis activism and the Permian becoming one the planet’s largest sources of Methane as tons of unused natural gas are burned off from thousands of rigs.
Currently, Holcim is “only” the third largest CO2 polluter among all ten cement plants in Texas, and fourth among all of Holcim’s U.S. plants. But burning 100% Pet Coke in its Kiln #2 could change that rapidly by adding a whopping 400,000 tons more of CO2 to its annual totals. That would send it to #2 in Texas and #2 in the entire US Holcim fleet of cement plants. Not very climate conscientious. And probably not a number you want to tout in trying to sell your “Plant of Tomorrow.”
At the same time Holcim is trying to project an image of a concerned 21st Century corporate entity to the rest of the world, it’s doing business in Texas like its still 1999.
Officially, the State of Texas doesn’t care about CO2 pollution. Heck, officially it doesn’t even believe there’s a climate crisis. There is no regulatory system for controlling its releases and only the EPA bothers to track CO2 releases at all. So this increase in planet-melting pollution will go completely unaddressed in the permit proceedings themselves.
Also officially, despite the evidence, the State and Holcim both say no other kinds of pollution will increase when 100% Pet Coke is burned at Holcim. No increase in PM 2. 5. No increase in SO2. No increase in metals. Citizens don’t believe them. A group calling itself “Midlothian Breathes” has formed to fight the new permit and has already caught regulators off guard asking tough questions about new emissions.
But trying to get the State of Texas to do the right thing about air pollution is an uphill fight. Instead, perhaps citizens should take these embarrassing numbers directly to LafargeHolcim, who’s claims of new fund corporate responsibility are belied by them. Contrasting its Texas operations with those of the rest of its facilities may be a way to shame the company in its own European backyard. Officially the company may still be able to be embarrassed. Texas state government left that possibility behind years ago.
Only in the nonsensical world of EPA air quality regulation could the official regional average for DFW smog actually decrease despite the worst levels of DFW Ozone pollution in five years.
In 2018 a quarter of all North Texas official monitor sites recorded smog levels in the 90-95 ppb range for more than an hour. 2018 was the first time in two years that any DFW monitors have had 8-hour averages of 80 ppb or above, and the first time since 2013 since there been at least six. In fact, this year’s total number of 80-or-above monitors is almost equal to the total number from the last five years combined.
Nevertheless, the regional average for smog pollution that determines government action actually went down from 81 to 76 parts per billion.
How does that happen? Not without a lot of numerical manipulation. EPA’s formula for smog pollution classification is a two part affair. First EPA only counts the highest 4th highest annual reading from each monitor in DFW. That means every monitor gets three “Mulligans” or “do-overs” before the results are eligible for regulatory use. Then EPA combines the last three year’s worth of those highest 4th highest readings to produce a rolling average. So that 2018 average is actually the results of the highest 4th highest reading from 2016, 2017, and 2018.
High readings from the summer of 2015 are rolling out of that three-year rolling average, while lower readings in ’16 and ’17 remain. While this year’s smog levels were higher, but not so extraordinarily high as to be able to counter the lower numbers making up the rest of the average.
But our smog was bad enough last year and this to once again make sure DFW is in “non-attainment” of the clean Air Act for the pollutant. For the umpteenth time in a row, we missed a deadline for meeting a Clean Air Act smog standard – this time it’s the 2008 75 ppb standard. If EPA follows its own protocol, that means DFW will be go from being “moderately” out of compliance to being in “Serious” non-compliance.
And please remember all of these numbers are based on only 20 smog monitors, half of which are located well-outside the DFW urban core, and none of which are located in Wise County, where Downwinders is doing the job of monitoring ozone pollution that the State and EPA refuse to do.
What are the consequences of this continuing violation of the Clean Air Act that imperils public health? Nada probably. At least while the Trump Administration holds office. In the past such classifications would have triggered a process leading up to some kind of official plan of action that, at least rhetorically, is aimed at correcting the 30-year old problem. But no one expects the State of Texas, or now the EPA, to take that responsibility seriously.
What you can expect is some official TCEQ spin about how it’s been successful in bringing down smog pollution levels. In fact, it was the wettest September on record that brought an abrupt end to what was shaping up to be an even worse smog year than it already was at the end of August. Historically, September is when DFW sees some of its worst bad air days. But not this year.
Accompanying the rise in smog pollution in 2018 was also a dramatic rise in the regional numbers for Particulate Matter (PM) pollution – the highest North Texas has seen since 2003.
After a long spell of annual peaks of between 24 and 28 migrograms per cubic meter of air, the 2018 average for highest daily readings among all sites has risen dramatically as of this month – to almost 40 µg/m3
Before this year, they’d only been four daily peaks above 40 µg/m3 over the last 15 years. In 2018 four out of 6 PM monitoring sties had registered daily readings averaging between 41 an 43 ppb as of October.
The EPA annual standard for PM pollution is 12 µg/m3. The 24 hour standard is 35 µg/m3.
As with smog, these readings are coming from a very small pool of monitors – in this case just six PM monitors scattered over an area only slightly smaller than Rhode Island.
Some of this might be blamed on the drought we we experiencing during the summer and increased dust circulation, but comparing it to 2011 when similar if not worse conditions were in play shows no similar bump then. Fewer coal plants blowing their plumes into DFW this year might lead you to think we were even due for a drop. Instead it’s as if someone turned the key on a couple more. There’s no obvious reason why PM levels would have jumped so much in a single year.
What’s clear is that local governments are the last refuge for effective and new air pollution control measures. Until political leadership changes in Austin and/or Washington, there’s no expectation of any relief. In fact, every day sees new proposals from the State or EPA that will actually increase smog and PM pollution in DFW. This is why local city and county elections are just as important as state and national ones.
We’ll have to wait until the end of 2019 to see if this rise in pollution averages is a trend or blip, but there’s no question that smog and PM are taking their toll on public health in DFW. Study after study shows harms at levels of exposure well below these annual and daily averages that determine EPA regulations. In the real world, your lungs, heart, brain and immune system don’t seem to be able to distinguish between “safe” and “unsafe” levels of poison as defined by the government.
A new study published last month in The Lancet is the best evidence yet that besides causing and irritating asthma, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and autism, PM pollution can also trigger diabetes.
Using new statistical tools, it estimated that American air pollution caused 150,000 new cases of diabetes in 2016 alone. Worldwide, 8.2 million years of healthy life were lost to the disease by pollution.
Funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and authored by VA doctors and others from the Saint Louis area, the study is the largest to ever examine the link between PM exposure and insulin resistance, the condition that often results in Type 2 diabetes in adults.
It used data from almost 2 million American veterans that were followed for eight and half years and matched with air quality data from NSA and EPA sources. The authors controlled for obesity and BMI, so it wasn’t the case that heavier people simply lived in more polluted neighborhoods and were also more likely to get diabetes. Rather, increased exposure to PM increased your likelihood of getting Type 2 diabetes.
There are many reasons why PM pollution is so harmful, but a big one is that it’s so very tiny and often contains toxic metals. Its small size allows it to not only penetrate deep into the lungs, but lo pass right through to the bloodstream. There, it circulates to different organs and causes inflammation. The inflammation increases insulin resistance. Eventually, this insulin resistance can become so severe the pancreas becomes unable to pump out enough insulin to compensate, and diabetes can set in.
Besides making the case for a link between PM pollution and diabetes, the study also confirms there appears to be no level of exposure to PM that isn’t capable of leaving a harmful mark. While EPA’s annual PM pollution threshold is 12 μg/m3, or micrograms per cubic meter of air, this VA study says the risk of diabetes starts as low as an 2.4 μg/m3 average per year That is, your risk of getting diabetes from air pollution begins at a level of exposure that’s almost 10 times less than the regulatory standard called “safe” by EPA.
In an Atlantic article reporting on the study, experts are quoted as saying the connection between PM2.5 and various health risks is now so clear that people should try to avoid large amounts of particulates, if they can.
“Live away from the major sources of emission. Don’t live right near the 405,” Dr Al-Aly, one of the authors stated, referring to the congested freeway in Los Angeles.
Tanya Alderete, who studies the connection between air pollution and disease at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says people should rethink biking and running in heavy traffic, “We shouldn’t be engaging in strenuous physical activity during rush hour or near major roadways,” she says.
The close association between PM pollution and Environmental Justice issues has been documented repeatedly, most recently by the EPA itself. African-Americans are more likely to be exposed to high levels of PM than other demographic groups. At the same time, African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. This is not a coincidence.
No other form of air pollution is linked to the wide variety of illness PM is now associated with in the scientific literature. The more it’s studied, the more PM becomes the most insidious form of air pollution we know about.
MONDAY, AUGUST 27th
DALLAS CITY HALL
CITY COUNCIL QUALITY OF LIFE COMMITTEE HEARING ON DALLAS JOINING A NEW REGIONAL AIR NETWORK
Over the last two years, as members of the DFW Air Research Consortium have promoted the idea of a dense grid of low-cost, high-tech air sensors spread across North Texas, their audiences have usually had one universal response: “This is great. It’s a no-brainer. When can we start? “
The single exception to this excitement is the City of Dallas Office of Environmental Quality.
Strange isn’t it? That hotbed of radical environmentalism known as Plano is embracing the idea of network air monitoring with both arms. Richardson and Fort Worth are interested as well.
But within Dallas City Hall there’s not only skepticism, but out right hostility to the the “smart city” idea of providing real time air quality information to citizens from hundreds of monitors.
On more than one occasion OEQ staff has said that they don’t want to have to take calls from Dallas residents who notice high air pollution levels in their neighborhoods and…expressed the opinion that “certain groups won’t responsibly use the information produced…like in Joppa.”
In other words, the public can’t handle the truth.
(Remind us again what happened in Joppa?
Oh yeah, Dallas OEQ staff was in favor of putting two additional dusty dirty batch plants in the small Freedman’s community that already has a large and polluting roofing shingles plant, a batch plant, and a huge rail switch yard surrounding it.
They made their recommendation for two more batch plants without doing any kind of air monitoring at all in Joppa, despite months of residents testifying at various hearings and meetings about the pollution problem and despite OEQ having the equipment to do it.
Staff made their recommendation without comparing the pollution in Joppa to other Dallas neighborhoods, or without examining any kinds of equity issues at all. Is Joppa the victim of Environmental Racism or not? The OEQ was silent.
Staff based their support solely on the lack of complaints – a record rendered invalid by plenty of Joppa community meetings where air pollution was complained about – and the moderate levels of pollution recorded by the single EPA-TCEQ PM monitor in all of Dallas County, located some nine miles away from Joppa near Mockingbird.
When Downwinders showed up a week before the Council vote and actually took air samples in Joppa for the first time, they showed levels of Particulate Matter that were much higher than that EPA monitor, demonstrating how ridiculous it was for OEQ to base its assurance to Joppa residents on it. It made them look like they hadn’t been doing their job. And they hadn’t. And they hadn’t done it in West Dallas with the concrete storage silo and batch plant fights there. Lately, OEQ hasn’t met a polluter it didn’t like.)
So instead of endorsing the idea that the public has as much of a Right-to-Know what’s in their air as in their food, OEQ would just rather you just not know. Ignorance is bliss.
OEQ staffers also have said they object to a network of new air monitors because EPA doesn’t yet recognize their data as “official” and so it can’t be used for enforcement…yet. But do these air monitors have to have that official recognition to begin doing lots of good things for public health?
Joppa residents didn’t need EPA certification to compare the levels Downwinders recorded with the “official monitor” and know something was wrong. Doctors say they don’t need it to begin looking at correlations between area pollution levels and heart attacks, strokes ER visits, and school absenteeism. Cyclists and runners say they don’t need EPA certification to plot the least-polluted routes for exercising according to the grid. Cities like Plano says it doesn’t need it to better time traffic lights and reduce pollution that way.
It’s quite possible just knowing there are new monitors out there relaying real time information will now make a plant manager think twice about doing something questionable on a weekend or holiday. That’s enforcement – without EPA certification.
Given that Dallas currently doesn’t quantify or measure Environmental Justice issues in the city limits, a monitor network could provide planners and City Council members with a tool to do just that. It could graphically demonstrate how some Dallas neighborhoods are burdened with a lot more air polluters than others, and draw a map of those inequities to prevent them being made worse….to prevent mistakes like the OEQ staff was making in Joppa. You don’t need EPA certification for that impact either.
The hollowness of these staff arguments is proven by OEQ’s own actions. Even while it dismisses the unruly democracy of a real time broad-based PUBLIC monitor network, it’s committing over a million dollars of in-kind staff time and City resources to assisting a PRIVATE air monitoring study that is supposed to show how health can be improved….without EPA certification of the monitors being used.
So the same argument that city staff is using to dismiss the public network is the same one it’s using to support the private study.
You might recognize this M.O. at City Hall:
Staff decides it absolutely must do something about something. It decides how to accomplish that something after an exhaustive and rigorous search of talent and resources within a 100 foot radius of the office where that something is decided. An all out effort is then made to bias, slant, tilt, and otherwise favor the approach staff has decided must be taken against all other alternative approaches that might make sense outside of the 100-foot office radius. Nothing but the original staff approach is worthy of consideration, all others being the work of Satan or Dirty Hippies.
And the City Council? The Deciders for the public-at-large? They have an option to get involved at the very end of this sausage-making. Staff’s view seems to be that bliss is ignorance here too.
This happened with the Trinity River. Now it’s happening with air quality.
In 2014 Dallas got some Rockefeller Foundation money for “Resilience“ preparation. For those without a program, resilience is the fancy Rockefeller Foundation word for Climate Change, or rather the symptoms of climate change. Elected officials and bureaucrats are supposed to feel safer about using it.
Dallas got so much money that the City created an Office of Resiliency. And that office sponsored invitation-only forums on how Dallas could be more resilient. Not open forums mind you. Not public hearings. They wanted the folks they’d located through that rigorous and exhaustive vetting process. None of the Satanists or Dirty Hippies got notice.
One of the right kind of groups that did get invited to those forums was the Texas Nature Conservancy, a mostly wealthy and white group of landowners dedicated to the noble idea of putting aside large tracts of undeveloped land for permanent preservation. It’s a group well-known for its dedication to open spaces – but not for any research it’s ever done on air quality.
Nevertheless, out of these forums suddenly emerged a partnership between the City of Dallas and The Nature Conservancy to do some kind of new air quality monitoring. There was no competition of concepts and no decision by the City Council. Staff had decided, and that was that.
And so you get the “Breathe Easy” Study.
Nine (as yet unspecified) DISD schools in “South Dallas” will be wired with new air monitors recording Ozone and Particulate Matter pollution in real time over one or two years to study the impact of anti-pollution measures like stricter idling policies on school absenteeism rates.
But while the information will be gathered in real time from these nine schools, that information will not be shared with the public on the City of Dallas website until after (an as yet unspecified) time has passed. No annoying calls from pesky citizens (or parents) asking why their neighborhood’s air pollution levels are so high today.
Furthermore, after the study is completed it’s unclear what’s going to happen to the monitors in the nine schools.
In this case, the Conservancy and City seem to be tracking the “resiliency” of Dallas students in the face of chronic and acute air pollution problems, and then letting them know after the fact how resilient they were.
And is it irony, cynicism, or both when Dallas City Hall says this new study is needed because “Black kids in Dallas have an asthma rate eight times higher than Asian children and four times higher than whites.”
Maybe that’s because the Dallas OEQ keeps approving batch plants in their neighborhoods.
The same department which approved the relocation of the Argos batch plant from gentrified Trinity Groves to working class West Dallas, approved Buzzi’s 165-foot tall concrete silo next door, approved the RamCrete batch plant permit down the street, and whole-heartedly approved two new batch plant permits in Joppa IS NOW concerned about Environmental Justice issues! What amazing powers that Rockefeller money has.
So far, TNC reports they’ve received almost $280,000 in grant money for support of this study. Paperwork found as part of a Texas Open Records Act Request Downwinders submitted to City Hall suggest the City is donating a million dollars in data services capacity alone. That’s in addition to the considerable staff time also lent to the effort. In-kind donations from DISD have not been disclosed.
We know that reducing kids’ exposure to PM pollution will help their health and well-being. We know one way to do that is by turning off vehicle exhaust. It’s not clear what kind of return the TNC or City is getting for its considerable investment.
Meanwhile, the idea of a new network of low-cost, high-tech monitors throughout North Texas giving the public real time information about the state of the air its breathing actually sounds like a great Rockefeller resiliency grant because it helps individuals and localities deal with the symptoms of climate change in their daily lives.
Moreover it’s an indigenous, grassroots effort.
Because the rigorous and exhaustive vetting at City Hall didn’t make it the long 17 miles up to UTD, staff had no idea that one of the nation’s premiere experts in air monitoring teaches there. Oxford-trained Dr. David Lary just got a huge contract from the U.S. armed forces to help them better equip our soldiers for fighting in hostile and toxic urban environments. A big selling point was all the different air toxins in DFW standing in for the real thing. Honest.
It was Dr. Lary’s 2016 National Science Foundation proposal for a pilot project that got the regional network ball rolling. Even though it didn’t get funded, it brought together local governments, scientists, and citizens groups who then forged their own regional slow-cook version. Representatives from UNT, UTA, TCU, and UNT’s Health Science Center participated. So did Plano, and Dallas County.
Dr. Lary has outlined a monitoring network that’s capable of correcting itself in real time using those EPA official monitors as a baseline. EPA has said they’re interested in using his approach. So has NASA. He’s the foremost authority on this topic within hundreds and hundreds of miles but somehow, but Dallas city staff never found him because he wasn’t on that exclusive invite list.
The TNC-Dallas Breathe Easy study is using the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for their air monitoring expertise. Much like the Nature Conservancy, this is a fine outfit, well-known for its work in transportation policy. It is not known for any air quality monitoring work and one can look in vain on its website for a mention of such. No one on their faculty even comes close to matching Dr. Lary’s credentials.
The kicker is that for the same $280,000 as Breathe Easy has raised, Dr. Lary has said he and his lab could build 200 + monitors for regional distribution. Data services will be donated by UTD. You get about 190 more monitors and real time public access for the same money.
So on the one hand you have an expensive study run by a private foundation for a short time using untested expertise, and on the other you have a cost-effective perpetual public network advised by one of the country’s leading authorities on air monitoring. You don’t have to have lived in Dallas very long to know which choice was the “no-brainer” for staff.
The Private Study and the Public Network don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but that’s the way City staff often portrays the choices to the Council – whose first exposure to any of this material will be at the scheduled August 27th Quality of Life Committee public hearing on joining the Regional Network, chaired by Council Member Sandy Greyson.
The Conservancy study could be done parallel to the establishment of the network and its school monitors folded into it at the end of the planned two-year shelf life. The city could help the Conservancy and be a part of the Network at the same time. But Staff seems to have made up their minds they can only support one air monitoring project, or rather, dug in their heels over the overly-democratic goals of this network project – it being supported by the Satanists and Dirty Hippies and all.
There’s no doubt that the same changes in technology which have disrupted other industries are disrupting environmental monitoring too. The ability to buy very reliable monitors for not much money is sending control away from top-down hierarchies to the bottom-up, crowd-sourcing rabble. A few expensive sites are being replaced by hundreds of inexpensive ones. Homeowners are already buying and installing their own consumer versions and linking to national and international networks. They’re making the status quo obsolete, one monitor at a time.
The regional network proposed by Dr. Lary and the DFW Air Research Consortium is designed to try to harness this disruption for public health’s sake. It’s open source, accepting all comers that meet its technical guidelines for participation, utilizes machine learning, and dispenses monitors where the science and need lead, no matter how many. It’s the same thing being done in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and Chattanooga. And even Plano, which has already ordered its first monitors from UTD.
Plano has decided it wants a seat at the table as the sensor networks of the future are built. It’s participating out of self-interest because it knows otherwise, the city might not have a say in how the technology is used there. It’s the polar opposite from the sentiments Dallas OEQ staffers have expressed.
On the 27th, Council Member Greyson will be using her Committee hearing to contrast and compare the two air monitoring projects.
City staff will do one presentation on the Breathe Easy study and UTD’s Dr. Lary and Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck will do another on the regional monitor network.
Then it will up to the Committee to decide if Dallas can be as progressive on air quality as Plano.
We’re told there will be no public comment allowed. Still, we encourage you to come down to City Hall, put on a button, buy some popcorn, and root for Democracy. The Dirty Hippies are on a roll of late.
Not quite two weeks ago, on Thursday October 19th, something happened to throw local air quality conditions into the red zone for most of the day.
There was a inexplicable smokey haze extending along the limestone escarpment from Midlothian to Dallas and then north to Denton, sending Particulate Matter pollution soaring to Beijing levels and ozone readings so high the whole regional average went up a part per billion. Countless downwind residents complained to officials, FaceBooked, and Tweeted about “the smell of burning plastic” enveloping their neighborhoods with the smoke, which was so thick many thought the problem was just down the street.
The 24-hour standard for Particulate Matter Pollution is 150 ug/m3. The annual standard is 12.
70 ppb is the new ozone standard.
The events took the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality completely by surprise. Commission computer forecasting had not predicted an Ozone Alert Day or warned of heavy PM pollution. Officials were playing catch-up for the rest of the day.
Now almost two weeks later nobody official knows what caused this Really Bad Air Day. Not the EPA. Not the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Not the DFW area citizens who breathed in the dirtiest air their lungs have seen all year.
Despite the sophisticated technology available to us in 2017, a single unexpected incident upwind of DFW can throw the entire North Texas air shed into the danger zone with no warning and no clue as to what initiated it.
Readings from state monitors were of no help until damage had already been done. As usual they were two hours or more behind in reporting. The numbers they were displaying at 12 noon were actually taken at 10 am. You had no idea what was going on in real time so that you might better protect yourself or family.
There are only three or four Particulate Matter pollution monitors in all of DFW. Even if you’d wanted to use the state’s current monitoring system to track this mystery plume, you couldn’t have done so. It doesn’t have that capability.
As inquiring reporters called, the TCEQ staff found a variety of things to blame. TCEQ suggested the smoke was from a Bastrop forest fire near Austin. But readings from monitors between Bastrop/Austin and Dallas show there was no problem south of Midlothian that day, while there was a huge problem north of there at the same time. Eyewitnesses who saw the plume on Thursday reported a thick narrow ribbon of a plume you’d see coming off a near-by source, not the sort of diffused cloud you’d expect to witness after traveling more than a hundred miles downwind. And then there’s that “burned-plastic smell.”
Then it was maybe one or more “controlled burns” in the Midlothian-Mansfield area. As it turns out, neither fire department found evidence of any permitted controlled burns in their own jurisdictions that could have cause so much pollution. Midlothian’s single permitted fire for the day was “the size of a coffee table” according to a department employee.
According to the Mansfield Fire Department “a fire” was reported to be located at Kimball Road and Hwy 287 just north of the Midlothian city limits. This is what’s at that intersection:
Please note the caution against open flames. Could a fracking site have produced the kind of particulate matter pollution and haze we saw on October 19th without methane or other kinds of pollution being released en masse as well? It doesn’t seem like it could. But what if the fracking site had been turned into a temporary waste incineration site for the day?
That’s not all. A satellite pic of the intersection and what’s around it reveals Kimball and Hwy 287 to be a kind of rogue’s gallery of potential suspects:
Besides the fracking sites you can be see in mid-drilling on this Google street level tour, the road leads to a Trinity River Authority Wastewater Treatment plant and the back door of the giant Ash Grove cement plant.
TRA is a shadowy, 60-year old regional bureaucracy that owns millions of acres of land, reservoirs, landfills, and wastewater-treatment facilities. It’s been in environmental hot water before. Wastewater treatment accumulates a lot of solids, and the TRA handles a lot of trash. It’s not inconceivable that it had something to do with the October 19th incident by thinking it could get away with an open burn on its own property.
Ditto for Ash Grove. Like the other two cement plants in Midlothian, Ash Grove’s kiln is allowed to burn industrial waste, including used oil, tires and plastics – remember the oft-cited “smell of burning plastic” citizens reported on the 19th? Waste-burning cement plants have had their wastes combust and cause huge fires before and each plant has its own emergency response crew which might be able to put out a fire without calling Midlothian.
There’s no proof Ash Grove, TRA or the fracking sites were the cause of the October 19th public health disaster. But there’s also no proof yet they didn’t cause the problem.
The truth is: there’s no official explanation for what made the air so dangerous to breathe on October 19th .
More truth: As of Friday, October 27th the TECQ had not even opened an official investigation into this matter – which again, sent Particulate Matter pollution to levels not seen outside SE Asia and single-handedly raised the regional ozone level.
This is why Downwinders at Risk filed the first of what we’re sure will be a series of Texas Open Record Act requests last Friday seeking:
“Any and all printed or electronic documents and electronic media containing information concerning or related to ozone, particulate matter and/or haze air pollution readings and levels in the Dallas-Forth Worth non-attainment area on Thursday, October 19th 2017, including official ozone action warnings issued, complaints filed about air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that day, photographs, satellite images, computer modeling, as well as all material related to any questions, inquiries, or investigations about air quality in DFW on October 19th anyone in the TCEQ, or contracted by TCEQ has been tasked to perform since October 19th or is still performing currently, and e-mails, letters, reports, telephone logs and notes, memos and all other material about October 19th air quality from 6 am Tuesday October 19th to Wednesday October 25th, 2017.”
TCEQ has until November 10th to respond. We’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, this episode becomes Exhibit A in why DFW needs to catch-up with other metro areas and build its own network of high tech air quality sensors.
If such a grid had been in place, there would have been a real time warning of the PM and ozone pollution being generated shortly after the it started. There would have been a way to locate the source of the pollution right away and do something about it before it got worse, and there would have been a way to predict the plume’s course and warn those in its path before it got there – not two hours after it arrived.
In this sense a modern sensor grid is actually a pollution prevention device, an investigative tool, and an early warning system all rolled into one.
In a metropolitan area that’s been out of compliance with the Clean air Act for 27 years and counting over 14 million lungs are being held hostage by a state air quality monitoring system left over from the 1990’s. It’s being maintained by a state agency that’s run by polluters, officially thinks smog isn’t bad for you, and is cutting its air monitoring budget.
There’s no desire in Austin to update this obsolete system and no money to do so. If DFW officials want to utilize 21st Century technology to help them clean their air, they’re going to have to build their own network of air monitors – exactly the proposal the DFW Air Research Consortium was trying to get funded with a National Science Foundation grant. Close, but no cigar.
Without the NSF grant, local officials are going to need to get creative. Are there private businesses who might want to sponsor an app that could tell give you useful air quality info in exchange for naming rights: “Brought to you by the Nissan Leaf DFW Clean Air Network.” Are there local foundations that would contribute? What about local high-tech billionaire Mark Cuban? For less than a million bucks, DFW could have 500 Particulate Matter sensors that would be capable of of pinpointing a problem down to the street address.
Baltimore, Chicago, Chattanooga, Louisville, L.A. , Oakland, and Lafayette, Louisiana are all way ahead of DFW in building out their own local dense grid of air sensors. They’ve done it with a combination of private, government and academic know-how and financing.
We have as much, or more technical expertise and money than any of those locales and we should have more incentive given our chronic air pollution problem. There’s no reason we can’t build our own modern, more protective, more useful way of monitoring air pollution – even if the state isn’t interested. Not only can we do it, but in light of the events of October 19th, it should be considered a necessary act of public health self-defense.
Only three months into the 2017 “ozone,” or smog, season, DFW has already recorded air pollution levels high enough to guarantee the region will remain in violation of the Clean Air Act for the 26th year in a row.
The bad news? So far, we’ve had a pretty mild kick-off to “ozone season.” Most of our worst ozone alert days have occurred on weekends on when winds were shifting.
But a couple of typical episodes in early May and June were enough to put local monitors in trouble, including the regional pacesetter at Denton Airport, to make sure that we’ll be above the current 75 parts per billion EPA standard. Only mid-way through June, Denton’s three year running average is at 78. That number can only go up as Summer wears on.
According to the the Texas Commission in Environmental Quality’s currently proposed DFW clean air plan, all monitors were supposed to be averaging 75 ppb or below.
But the Commission was never serious about that goal. For the second time since 2011, TCEQ offered up a plan that did absolutely nothing to bring smog levels down. No new controls on large sources like coal plants, cement kilns or gas compressors. No new transportation initiatives. Nothing. And nothing is what happened. And the difference between before and after the plan? Nothing. The region is still in “non-attainment” with the Clean Air Act.
Now, you might think that qualifies as a complete and utter failure as an anti-smog plan. And you’d be right. By way of common sense and the English language. But in the “Alice in Smogland” world of EPA-TCEQ agency air plan interaction and doublespeak, this State of Texas do-nothing plan has not yet failed. Bureaucratically it cannot….yet. Because it hasn’t even been approved by the EPA.
The State’s plan is still parked at Region 6 headquarters in Dallas. Why? Who knows. Pre-Trump and pre-2017 comments from EPA staff indicated it would be rejected in part or whole by now. Downwinders, other citizens groups, and elected officials were working on that assumption, trying hard to get EPA to substitute a federal plan for the state’s. The election changed all that for us, and it obviously changed the pace of decision-making at EPA.
Given that it’s already failed, one would have to make a pretty good case for EPA to approve it, but again, this is a not a process always grounded in the latest facts. Now wedded to an administration that treats facts as hostile witnesses, things at EPA could get bizarre – and into court quickly.
What makes the State’s apathy worse is that EPA is letting the state get away with not providing a new plan for a current standard (even though its’ still violating it), while a new, lower standard is being (maybe) implemented over the next ….five to eight years.
But because the cut-off for violating metro areas to submit plans for the new standard was 81 ppb and DFW was at 80 last year, DFW was also given a pass by EPA to turn in a plan for the new 70 ppb standard.
So, after seeing a cycle of a plan every 3- 5 years since 1991, there will be no more anti-smog plans submitted on behalf of DFW – not for the current standard and not for the new standard. Nada. DFW won’t have to turn in a plan until well into the next decade, and then, only after it’s endangered public health by failing to meet the 70 ppb standard for three years. Of course, given our progress the last 6-7 years, it’s very possible DFW will still be violating the “old” standard.
It’s also very possible there won’t be a new 70 ppb standard. The Trump Administration has already signaled a possible roll back in EPA’s support for it. Last Tuesday, the agency gave states another year to draw non-attainment boundaries. Most had already done so with no complaints. A year from now it wouldn’t be surprising to be hearing of another delay in implementation. There’s more than one way to kill a public health standard.
At one point in mid-May, four out of eight days were “ozone alert days.” While only one of those was critically high, the wave of higher levels was enough to push the regional average over the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) standard for 2017. It will be the 26th year in a row the DFW area has been out of compliance with the Clean Air Act’s ozone (smog) standard.
The worse news of course is that the current standard is obsolete and in the process of being lowered. The Obama EPA adopted a new 70 ppb ,and scientists advising the EPA said it really should be closer to 60-65 ppb, when many people begin noticing health effects.
To date, the Hinton Street monitor on I-35 just north of downtown Dallas and the Dallas North Site near the LBJ Freeway have the highest eight-hour averages each at 80 ppb from May 6th. Hinton saw a 1-hour reading as high as 90 ppb while North Dallas topped out at 88.
But the key to DFW’s smoggy regulatory status is the Denton monitor because it’s historically been the worst performing among the 20 North Texas monitors the state operates. It took until the May 15th episode for the wind to blow in its direction long enough to raise its numbers and to seal DFW’s ozone fate under the law for another year. It now sits at 77, barely over the current standard….but that number will rise as the summer, and ozone season progresses.
Although May saw a big wave of ozone, the region was lucky that three out of four alert days were on the weekend and shifting winds. Had the May 6th episode occurred on a Monday instead of Saturday, the numbers probably would have been significantly higher.
Forecasters have said it will be a hotter summer than last year. If so, that often portends some awful smog as well.
That’s too bad, because prospects for ANY kind of DFW clean air plan, much less a more effective one went down the tubes with the election results. There is no effective oversight by the EPA. There are no new air pollution controls being required of any major sources. We’re now completely dependent on the coattails of existing regulations, the marketplace, and whatever we can build from scratch at the local level to get us out of our dirty air rut.
Meanwhile, every so slowly, the Trump Administration is signaling it would really like to roll back that new 70 ppb smog standard to the old 75 one. It recently asked for, and got, a delay in a lawsuit filed by industry to challenge EPA’s decision. Almost every commentator believes this is in anticipation of the Trump EPA giving up the fight. But while that might be a short term victory for polluters, the law behind establishing these ozone standards makes it less likely to be a permanent one.
Nevertheless, these are more reasons for us to be about the business of becoming more self-reliant in addressing DFW’s chronic air pollution problems.
As always, every time there’s an ozone alert day, we’ll be tracking the smog on our FB site, at least as best we can when there’s a two-and-a-half-hour lag time between sample and posting of the sample on the state’s handful of monitors.
And …as you might have noticed, every time there’s a DFW ozone alert, you’ll also get a nudge from Downwinders at Risk to contribute some money to the cause of cleaner air.
Some of you may have felt assaulted by these appeals when things were getting smoggy and then smoggier in Mid-May. We apologize for the inconvenience, but not for the appeal. Ozone Alert Days are the most obvious signs of a failed state policy to provide safe and legal air to 7 million people. If we’re going to continue to be effective on your behalf, we need all the help we can get. Thanks.
Not to be outdone by the Trump Administration’s attempted deconstruction of the Clean Air Act, the Texas House of Representatives voted in early April to take $20 million from the Air Quality Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and spend it on an alternatives to abortion program.
$20 million may not sound like much in a an office that has a $191 million budget, but a lot of that total is dedicated to programs in place around the state. For example, over $150 million is set aside for vehicle “emission reduction” grants to local governments in smoggy non attainment areas like Houston and DFW to subsidize new engine and repairs. A lot less is truly discretionary and a lot more at risk.
For example, TCEQ only spends a little over $6 million on grants for air monitoring. And it doesn’t get all that much bang for its buck. Only 20 monitors record smog levels over ten counties where seven million people live in DFW. This leaves huge gaps where there should be monitors but aren’t. Like Wise County.
Only Wise County isn’t just an unintentional gap in smog data. It’s a premeditated black hole, left there by design by the same TCEQ whose job it is to set-up air quality monitoring in DFW.
Over at least the last two decades, model after computer model has shown Wise County to have among the highest, if not the highest smog levels of any county in the DFW non-attainment area. Yet every time the state had the opportunity to locate a monitor to confirm those models, it passed. Why?
Because the higher the smog levels officially recorded in DFW, the more industry needs to reduce pollution by adding controls or replacing obsolete equipment.
As it is, a single tiny part per billion difference in our regional smog level was responsible for North Texas getting an exemption to turn in any plan at all for the new, and newly-endangered, 70 ppb federal ozone standard. We’re at 80. If we’d been at 81 ppb we would have had to turn in a plan. Probably a terrible one, but still a plan. A plan we could then use for court fodder to maybe get something. Now even that slim piece of leverage is gone. It’s very possible monitors in Wise County would have given us an average of 81 or greater, forcing DFW to write a plan for the brand new standard. And that’s why the current TCEQ doesn’t want a monitor there.
Which is why we’re going there with our own smog monitors.
We just invested $10,000 in two EPA-calibrated ozone sensors that we’re dedicating to the job of measuring Wise County smog. The monitors got their own display at Earth Day and their own photo shoot at D magazine for an upcoming article. Stay tuned for Texas Observer coverage as well. Meanwhile, here’s Culture Map’s piece.
The easiest part is done – we bought the equipment. Now we need your help in building what may the biggest and most important citizen science project in North Texas.
We’ll be launching our effort in June but we need people now who can help us build a stationary, internet-connected monitor for a location in Wise county and others who live in or near there who can help drive and take measurements from a car along a specified grid. This is your chance to actually join others and strike back against the Empire on a 24/7 basis using….SCIENCE!!!
If you’re interested in volunteering to be a Wise County Smog Tracker or want help with the Project in any capacity, please contact us at email@example.com. Thanks.
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.
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.