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.
There's some commentary out there, including unfortunately from within the EPA itself, suggesting that a Trump administration can't undue much of the nation's environmental regulations, no matter how determined his appointees might be to do so; that things won't be as bad as you fear.
Don't buy it. It's exactly the kind of commentary that said Trump would never be elected in the first place.
This isn't W. This isn't even Reagan. There's no shared world view, or even a rhetorical fig leaf devoted to the need for environmental protection. It's ISIS about to invade and systematically blow-up the nation's environmental safeguards because they don't believe in them. The Clean Air Act is a false idol. The Clean Water Act is blasphemy against an unfettered market. They must be demolished.
Reassurances to the contrary, there are lots of ways to make sure EPA doesn't work. You don't have to repeal the Clean Air Act to make it impotent. As Grover Norquist commented, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Citizens know in the best of times, it's a chore to make the government enforce what's on the books. Imagine no interest at all in enforcement by EPA, where you still have federal regulations but their implementation is left entirely up to states, cities, or environmental groups. No money for attorneys or staff. All work out-sourced to contractors who are also getting paid by the polluters they're now regulating.
Imagine EPA's scientific panels filled with Michael Honeycutts, the TCEQ's own professional apologist. There's not only no such thing as Climate Change, there's no such thing as smog. Or if there is, it turns out to be good for you!
Over the weekend, reports surfaced of the Trump people literally taking names of EPA employees who've been directly involved in climate change work. He's not even president yet, but he already putting together an environmental enemies list.
Staid observers are counting on bureaucratic inertia to help maintain business-as-usual. But these people are underestimating both the zeal and the intent of the new gang. They're here to destroy, not carry-on. Illusions to the contrary can only facilitate the destruction.
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.
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
By a vote of 5 to 1 the City of Dallas moved closer to joining Dallas County in repudiating the State's do-nothing DFW clean air plan and demanding something better.
It was the second vote in less than a month to condemn an anti-smog strategy the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality claims gets DFW "close enough" to the current federal standard, but is criticized by clean air advocates as inadequate to end the region's chronic bad air problem.
In April U.S. Congressional Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey asked the EPA to reject the State plan and write its own.
Council members Mark Clayton, Philip Kingston, Tiffini Young, and Rickey Callahan backed a wide-ranging air quality resolution sponsored by Quality of Life Committee Chair Sandy Greyson. Casting the lone no vote was Adam McGough.
Greyson's resolution cites the EPA's conclusion "that the latest air quality State Implementation Plan (SIP) proposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is not adequate to address the (the region's) ozone concentrations"
One reason given for the inadequacy is the plan doesn't touch major sources of air pollution affecting DFW including the East Texas coal plants, the Midlothian cement kilns and oil and gas facilities. The resolution specifically requests the state to follow the prescription laid out by UNT's landmark 2015 DFW ozone study, itself based on the State's own computer air model by adding off-the shelf control technology to those industrial sources.
Besides rejecting the state's plan, the resolution also takes issue with the State's assertion that lowering smog levels won't improve public health by specifically adding a provision stating "…studies have shown a direct correlation between health issues, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and higher levels of ozone…"
It also calls for more renewable energy, net metering and an endorsement of the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan – a 2016 Dallas Omnibus Air Quality resolution.
Nobody had anything nice to say about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Councilman Philip Kingston was particularly pointed in his criticisms. During a discussion about Dallas taking on some of TCEQ's enforcement duties, Kingston explained why the City preferred to to it themselves, rather than leave it up to the State: "Because they do the same thing with that responsibility as they do with all their responsibilities – they ignore them." Amen.
The resolution now goes to the full Dallas City Council for a final vote at one of two meetings before the summer break – either June 15th or June 22nd. Stay tuned for details.
Meanwhile, RIGHT NOW – you can send a quick e-mail toall 15 Dallas City Council members asking them to vote for the Greyson air quality resolution when it shows up on their doorstep. You can add a message of your own if you want.
Thousands of gas wells, pipelines, storage tanks, compressors, and other pieces of infrastructure in oil and gas patches, which individually don't emit the huge volumes of air pollution coming from a single cement kiln or a coal plant can, when combined, easily total tonnage larger than both.
And that's what has happened in DFW over the last decade. As the Barnett Shale boom crept further into the region's "non-attainment" area" for smog, all the air pollution from all those thousands of individual sources begin adding up and having an impact on air quality.
While other large sources were actually decreasing their pollution, the oil and gas sector was going the opposite direction. It ballooned. To the point where it's now the fourth largest category of air pollution in that "non-attainment area." The three sources that outrank it? 1. All vehicles on the road. 2. All vehicles off-the-road, and, 3."area sources" a catch-all term including everything from backyard BBQs to small paint shops, and probably some oil and gas sources itself. Oil and Gas air pollution is, by volume, now the largest source of industrial air pollution in the North Texas area, exceeding the Midlothian cement kilns, local power plants (now all gas-fired), and large manufacturing plants like the GM truck and SUV factory in Arlington. Only the East Texas coal plants emit more and their 90-100 miles outside the nonattainment boundary (another problem that needs fixing).
At the same time oil and gas air pollution rose from Barnett Shale development, DFW smog levels, which had been declining, began to plateau. For a decade now the annual smog average has hovered on either side of 85 parts per billion (ppb) – the obsolete 1997 standard that we were supposed to reach in the early Oughts. We were at 86 ppb of smog in 2008 and we're now at 83 ppb.
Look at the chart below, generated by the North Texas Council of Governments. In 2007 DFW had 45 "exceedence days". In 2015, DFW had 44 "exceedence days." There's a very good case to be made that oil and gas air pollution has prevented DFW from making the kind of air quality progress it might have otherwise made without that burden.
For the last five years, the State of Texas has been on a mission to deny any link at all between the oil and gas industry in the Barnett Shale and DFW smog. It's gone out of its way to hide the real volumes of pollution emitted by these sources, as well as avoiding or downplaying the significance to regional air quality of decreases in that pollution. That's not hyperbole, it's the record.
In looking ahead with its proposed DFW air plan now in the pipeline, the State has predicted that a drop in the number of new wells in the Shale will equal a drop in the amount of air pollution coming from O&G sources. Sounds logical doesn't it? Yet the industry's own text books say that it ain't necessarily so.
A drop in new wells is the tip of the O&G iceberg in DFW. Just because there were no new wells drilled last month doesn't mean there's no new pollution being released this month. Some 20,000 wells, almost 1000 large compressors, untold thousands of smaller compressors, millions of gallons of storage capacity, miles of pipelines – these all continue to operate and emit huge amounts of air pollution 24/7.
And when production-per-well drops, and the densest parts of the patch begin to play out, as is occurring now in the Barnett, investors don't usually go with the flow. They want to increase the flow. And so they install more "lift compressors" to squeeze every last molecule of gas they can out of a well. These compressors, powered by gas or diesel, increase air pollution. Not by a lot by themselves, but when you start putting them together, by the thousands, then yeah, they have an impact. And so, even when O&G production is declining, you can have increases in O&G air pollution.
Downwinders at Risk and the Sierra Club made this argument in our comments about the state's plan, providing sources from industry to show exactly how this has taken place plenty of times before. We told Austin it was underestimating the impact of O&G air pollution – again. The State dismissed our concerns and said no problem.
Which brings us to Mansfield in Tarrant County, scene of the last pre-HB40 gas ordinance fight in the state.
Last week, there was a small headline in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a lot of people probably ignored. It concerned a routine variance to zoning code being requested by (notorious) gas well operator EagleRidge. At issue was whether the company could keep using gas powered lift compressors instead of electric-powered ones as the city's year-old ordinance required. EagleRidge made an argument in favor of the variance which sounded very familiar to some of us….
EagleRidge first noticed a dramatic decline in natural gas production at 15 of its wells last year, as it went from 8 million to 2.5 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Low natural gas prices, trading about $2.10 per British thermal unit Monday, could make the wells economically unfeasible, according to Mark Grawe, executive vice president of EagleRidge.
That prompted EagleRidge to try a new strategy, using small gas lift compressors that increase production on the wells. Last year, Mansfield granted a six-month variance to allow the compressors on a trial basis.
Grawe said the compressors have already improved production on three of the wells, but addition tests are needed on EagleRidge’s other wells.
Eagle Ridge got its variance. And besides the three lift compressors it's operating on the site now, at least two to three more or expected, and all of those might one day be replaced by two giant-sized compressors. And, Eagle Ridge told the council, it's experience in Mansfield will be repeated at "hundreds of wells in Southeast Tarrant County" that have also seen declining production.
Eagle Ridge's ratio was approximately one lift compressor for every two wells. There are 15 wells as part of this one variance, "hundreds" in SE. Tarrant County waiting their turn, and 20,000 more throughout the part of the Barnett Shale in the DFW non-attainment area for smog. That's thousands and thousands more lift compressors emitting lots more air pollution even as Barnett Shale production is declining – and most will be located in cities or counties where there's not even a requirement for electric power to get a variance from. In other words, this is exactly the scenario Downwinders and the Sierra Club warned about in their comments, but which the state dismissed.
That's in addtion to the thousands of lift compressors already located in DFW, the exact number and location of which are unknown to EPA and Texas because they don't require indivdual permits. Austin "estimates" the total amount by using, you guessed it, production numbers. Here'a map from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality guestimating where all those existing lift compressors are now:
If you think there might be a correlation between O&G pollution and stagnating DFW smog levels, what's the answer? It's pretty straight-forward. Stricter emission standards for all equipment, leak detection, electrification of large and small compressors. These are all things the industry is either doing in fits and starts in North Texas and elsewhere, or being required by the new EPA methane rules, but they're not being applied across the board in the Barnett Shale, or they don't apply to existing facilities, or both.
Who's going to make that happen? Local governments were doing some of it – up until the passage of HB40. For example, Dallas, Mansfield, and other cities required electric-powered compressors and state-of-the-art leak detection. But that's off the table, as is any action from Austin. That leaves the EPA as the one regulatory entity that could, if it wanted, impose uniform emission standards on all O&G facilities in the 10-county non-attainment area, including Denton, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant, and Wise counties. It could do so as part of it's own anti-smog plan for the region.
But before it can start writing its own plan, the EPA must first reject the state's. And for it to do that we must give the EPA the political support it needs to stand up to the backlash from Austin you know will come. Thus the need for resolutions from DFW cities and counties asking the EPA to reject the State plan. Thus the need to show-up this coming Monday morning at City Hall and support an effort by Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson to have the City of Dallas join Dallas County in calling for EPA intervention in DFW air quality: 9am Room 6ES, Quality of Life Committee.
Don't let the Mansfield variance become the regional template.