By a vote of 3 to 2 this morning Dallas County became the first local government in DFW to take a stance rejecting the state-sponsored anti-smog plan for the area, and ask EPA for help in writing a new one that might actually produce cleaner air.
At stake is the last comprehensive chance to address chronic smog in North Texas until the next decade.
Pct 1 Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel introduced the resolution. It garnered support from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Pct 4 Commissioner Elba Garcia.
One-by-one Judge Jenkins cited, and then shot down, arguments he said he'd heard from industry about East Texas jobs, electric grid reliability, and the "premature" nature of the vote, given that the state's plan doesn't officially arrive at the EPA's doorstep until July. He said he found none of these persuasive in light of the impact to public health and lost productivity from dirty air days in Dallas County cited in Dr. Robert Haley's landmark 2015 study on the costs of smog in DFW. And he saw no indication the state was planning to change anything in the plan prior to July's official submission.
Garcia was hopeful that the measure, although without the weight of law, would still be effective in getting the EPA to provide a more effective clean air plan.
Daniel cited the fact the area has continually been out of compliance with the Clean Air Act since 1991 despite five previous state air plans as evidence of something more being needed this time around. She also reminded the Court of the conclusions of the UNT's ozone study, based on the state's own computer air modeling, showing the East Texas coal plants to be the single biggest influence on DFW smog.
Commissioner John Wiley Price, facing federal corruption charges, gave perhaps the most puzzling and incoherent defense of dirty air ever heard inside a local governmental chamber. He seemed to be adopting the TCEQ party line in arguing that the coal plants weren't impacting DFW air and the Court's actions were "premature" – he latched on to Jenkins phrase like a drowning man to a floating log. But honestly, there weren't a lot of complete sentences to his explanation. Which is a shame, because when you talk about who pays the price for dirty air in Dallas County, a disproportional number of those casualties are Commissioner Price's constituents – people of color who make less than the median income. They need a strong advocate for clean air, not a rambling echo chamber for the failed status quo.
Commissioner Mike Cantrell, the lone Republican on the court, did not speak at all. Such is the state of the Texas Republican Party.
Dallas County's resolution now goes to EPA, will it will join a letter sent two weeks ago by Dallas area congressional representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey, which also requested EPA reject the state's plan and write one of its own if it has to.
Meanwhile, clean air advocates are fanning out and seeking appointments with representatives from other North Texas counties and cities to attempt to get as many similar resolutions as they can between now and the end of the year, when a final decision could be made by EPA to accept or reject the plan. They say the more local governments that pass them, the more likely it is EPA will feel it has the political support to intervene.
Because Dallas District 12 Councilwoman Sandy Greyson served with Commissioner Daniel on the same committee overseeing the UNT and Haley studies, it's probable Dallas City Hall will be one of the next front lines in this fight. Stay tuned.
This Tuesday, May 3rd, 9 am 411 Elm Downtown Dallas
First air quality vote of 2016
Come help us thank local officials for standing up to the state
This next Tuesday, May 3rd, the Dallas County Commissioners Court will hold an historic vote.
Commissioners will be asked to go on record as the first local North Texas government urging the EPA to reject the currently proposed state air plan for DFW and replace it with a stronger one that actually cuts pollution.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Theresa Daniel is sponsoring a resolution that requests EPA to do two things:
"…to reject the proposed State Implementation Plan for DFW ozone pollution, and require a new federal DFW clean air plan that can meet or exceed the current 75 ppb federal ozone standard at all North Texas monitoring sites, and implement all reasonably available pollution controls as defined by the federal Clean Air Act.
"...regulate East Texas coal plants as if they were in the DFW non-attainment area, or include them in a larger non-attainment area for North Texas under rules governing the new federal 70 ppb ozone standard."
As the most populous county in the 10-County DFW "non-attainment area" for smog, Dallas carries a lot of political weight. Passing such a resolution would be an important signal to other local officials concerned about the two-decade plus chronic air pollution problem in the region.
Downwinders and other citizens groups have formed a new ad-hoc alliance to campaign for similar resolutions in other North Texas cities and counties as part of a broader effort of convincing EPA to replace another state "do-nothing" air plan with one of its own.
The DFW Clean Air Network, or DFW CAN, includes the Dallas Sierra Club, and the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign,Public Citizen Texas, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, Liveable Arlington, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.
It's important to recognize what a challenge Commissioner Daniel and others are facing in taking on Austin over this issue. They need to see your support for their brave stands. And all the Dallas County Commissioners need to be reminded how long we've had to breathe dirty air and why we're fed-up with the state's apathy.
We CAN win this vote.
We CAN make a difference.
We CAN breathe clean air.
They've Been Avoiding for Decades?
Click here and send a formal comment letter demanding the coal plants
be included in the new DFW non-attainment area for smog.
Even as we're all waiting to see what EPA decides to do about the current Texas air plan for DFW under the current 75 ppb ozone standard, the regulatory process is gearing-up to administer the new 70 ppb standard.
One of the things which must be decided by the EPA are what geographical boundaries to use for the new standard when it comes to the DFW airshed and its chronic smog condition. Should they stick with the current 10-County configuration or should it be different and/or more inclusive?
The history of DFW's smog fight is a lengthy chronicle of bringing new counties into the fold despite official resistance. Originally, the DFW non-attainment area was only Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton. Then Rockwall, Parker, and Johnson Counties came in because of their commuter traffic.
Downwinders had to petition the EPA to bring Ellis County and its cement industrial complex into the non-attainment area early in this century after being told repeatedly by state officials that its pollution had no impact on DFW air quality.
More recently, the state argued against the inclusion of Wise County, despite its huge inventory of oil and gas pollution, population of commuters, and more than likely, the highest ozone levels of anywhere in North Texas. EPA decided to bring it in anyway.
We're once again at a crossroads, and it could be the most significant one in a decade.
New evidence shows the huge impact the East Texas coal plants have on DFW air quality. Every scenario run by the UNT Engineering Department with the state's own DFW air computer model as part of Downwinder's Ozone Attainment Project demonstrates there's no more effective smog fighting strategy than reducing or eliminating the pollution from these coal plants.
In fact, with a few other measures within the DFW area itself, controlling or eliminating their emissions could bring us in compliance with the 75 ppb standard, something that's not likely to happen otherwise.
Why is it so important to officially bring them into the DFW non-attainment area? Because major sources of pollution like coal plants are regulated differently inside than they are outside the area.
Right now, many DFW businesses are having to pay to operate and maintain pollution control equipment although most emit a tiny fraction of the pollution coming from the coal plants. That's because they're located in one of the ten counties in the DFW non-attainment area. They're held to a higher standard of control than their peers doing business outside those ten counties.
On the other hand, despite their large contribution to DFW's chronic ozone problem, the East Texas coal plants remain untouched by the same regulations and are not held to that higher standard. What sense does that make?
As much sense as it made to keep the cement plants out. As much sense as it made to try and exclude Wise County.
As per usual, the EPA is letting the state have first crack at defining a new DFW smog zone. The state has decided to leave the boundaries the way they are.
The state is accepting comments on its decision until April 15th. This time, you can send your comments directly by e-mail instead of having to go through the official Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website
If you want to write your own comments:
SNAIL MAIL: Kristin Patton, MC 206, State Implementation Plan Team, Office of Air, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087,
All comments should reference "2015 Ozone NAAQS Designation Recommendations."
1) Mercury Rules
Thursday's headline was that Supreme Court Justice Roberts denied the attempt by Texas and 18 other states to delay the implementation of EPA's new, more protective limits on release of toxic Mercury pollution from coal plants. In 2013, three out of the top five largest Mercury polluters in the whole country were Texas coal plants.
It was only last summer that majority of the entire Court ruled EPA hadn't followed protocol in weighing costs to the coal industry versus public health benefits, and sent the standard back to the Agency to be rewritten. Not an especially big deal.
Texas, along with other states, sought an injunction from Justice Roberts to stop the timeline for implementation of the rules until the rewrite was finished. Roberts denied the request and so EPA is allowed to continue writing the rules and now expects to release the revised edition next month. One indication of how much trouble the rules are in, or not, is the speed and format of Robert's actions. He ruled on the case only a day after the EPA had submitted its brief, and ruled on it unilaterally, not bothering to convene the full Court.
The practical implications of the rules are reductions in the use of coal with higher Mercury content, better Particulate Matter pollution control equipment, and specific carbon absorption control technology aimed at Mercury. Many Texas coal plants have already taken steps to comply with the standards and it seems like almost all have applied for extensions to the original deadline.
2) Haze Rules
Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state was suing the EPA for rejecting its lackadaisical plan to protect national parks from haze air pollution, also mostly coming from coal plants. Just three Luminant coal plants – Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello – release 40% of all Texas’ Sulfur Dioxide air pollution.
Late last year, EPA announced it found the state's lightning-fast 140-year plan to do absolutely nothing somehow inadequate, and begin to draft one of its own that would require "scrubbers" for Sulfur Dioxide pollution at nine coal plants across the state. It also concluded Texas had intentionally downplayed the impact of the coal plants on park air quality in computer modeling submitted to EPA .
Texas is suing to prevent the EPA from enforcing its plan to require scrubbers and asking the court to accept the original Texas plan as reasonable. Pending.
3) Sulfur Dioxide Non-attainment Areas in East Texas
In mid-February, EPA announced it intended to declare areas surrounding three East Texas coal plants as out of compliance with national Sulfur Dioxide pollution limits and declared them in official "non-attainment" of the Clean Air Act. Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake power plants were found to be causing the violations in ambient air quality using computer modeling results first run by the Sierra Club, and then analyzed by the EPA. Boundaries were drawn for the new non-attainment areas that include all or parts of Freestone, Anderson, Rusk, Gregg, Panola, and Titus counties.
Final action by EPA on the non-attainment area classification is scheduled for this summer. Then it will be up to the state to submit a plan for action. We can all write the script from there. It ends in a court ruling.
Eventually, these East Texas non-attainment areas are another tool by EPA's to raise the costs of operating the oldest, most polluting coal plants to better reflect their toll on public health. Plants could lower their Sulfur Dioxide emissions by importing more "Cleaner Coal" from Wyoming and/or paying for those scrubbers the Haze Rules requires too.
4) DFW Clean Air Plan
DFW is in "non-attainment" for ozone, or smog pollution. It has been since 1991. The State has submitted a plan to EPA that sits back and watches federal fuel changes reduce smog-forming pollution by 20-40 tons per day. The problem? EPA estimates it will take cuts of 100-200 tons per day to get down to the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. The state says it sees no reason for more cuts.
This is the state plan up for comment at the the now infamous "F*** the TCEQ" public hearing in Arlington in late January, with final submission to EPA by the state this summer.
But between now and then one of the headlines you should see will be EPA rejecting the part of the state's plan dealing with pollution control technology. EPA has already telegraphed their intention to do so, and they don't have to wait for the state's final submittal deadline to act.
This will, of course, be followed by the state's suing the EPA for daring to enforce the Clean Air Act when Austin won't. But it won't keep the EPA from doing exactly what it did in the Haze Rule fight – write its own clean air plan for DFW.
And that will be our chance to make the greatest leap forward in local air quality in a decade.
Last week, the EPA made an important admission.
"Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are significantly higher than previous official estimates, according to draft revisions of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. At 9.3 million metric tons, revised estimates of 2013 emissions are 27% percent higher than the previous tally. Over a 20-year timeframe, those emissions have the same climate impact as over 200 coal-fired power plants."
This most recent analysis jives with other studies like the one from UTA/EDF that found Barnett Shale facilities leaking up to 50% more methane than previously estimated. In reaction to the information, EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying "we need to do more" to cut methane pollution.
In its last year in office the Obama administration is finally grasping that natural gas isn't the climate change wunderkind its promoters claimed and last week's announcement is the tacit admission they need to do more to crack down on oil and gas.
What has that got to do with DFW in 2016?
By Spring, the Regional office of the EPA is expected to announce that it has rejected the State's clean air plan for DFW in regard to its application of "Reasonably Available Control Technology." That means the state hasn't required the application of readily-available air pollution controls for major sources the way the Clean Air Act demands. Specifically, EPA staff have cited the failure of the state to lower the emission standards for the Midlothian cement kilns to reflect more modern technology. But it's not the only area where Texas fell short. There are no new pollution requirements for any oil and gas facilities in the state's plan either.
EPA rejection of the Technology section of the state's DFW air plan would mean the EPA would begin to draft its own clean air plan for the region. An EPA-drafted plan gives local citizens concerned about the health impacts of fracking an opportunity to persuade the Agency to use the plan to crack down on smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in the Barnett Shale by requiring lower emission standards on all aspects of drilling and production.
While methane isn't considered a smog pollutant, it doesn't get emitted by itself. It comes out of a stack or valve, or leaks from a pipeline combined with smog-forming VOCs. So the more you control VOC pollution, the more you control methane pollution.
In light of last week's announcement, this gives EPA an extra incentive to go after VOC emissions in DFW even though the conventional wisdom is that it's combustion-generated Nitrogen Oxide pollution that really makes DFW smog so bad.
BTW, that conventional wisdom is under attack because the worst-performing air monitoring sites in North Texas are all in the Barnett Shale and heavily influenced by pollution from oil and gas facilities – both NOX and VOCs. It's possible to imagine a strategy to get smog numbers down in DFW solely by application of oil and gas emission regulations that can impact these important monitors – which drive the entire region's fate – even if the new regs have minimal impact on monitors elsewhere.
What kind of new regulations are we talking about?
* Start with the electrification of all 650 large natural gas compressors in the 10-county area.
* Do the same thing for all drilling rigs in the same 10-county area – nothing but electric.
* Emission standards for tanks and pipelines that reflect the latest leak-detection technology.
Inclusion of new EPA “Control Technique Guidelines" which are part of Agency's new methane rules. According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone."
Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog receive "an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources."
There's one more reason EPA has an incentive to go looking for all the cuts in oil and gas pollution it can find in the 10-county DFW non-attainment area: after the cement kilns, there's no other major sources the Agency can target locally.
Because while it has the authority in a federal clean air plan to regulate all pollution sources in that 10-county DFW non-Attainment area, the EPA can't write new emission standards for the East Texas coal plants located 100 miles outside of that 10-county area – even though those coal plants have more of an impact on North Texas smog than any other source of pollution. EPA (and us) can put pressure on the state to address these dinosaurs, but it can't touch them through a DFW air plan.
EPA staff has estimated it will take a cut of 100-200 TONS PER DAY in local smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution for DFW reach the current 75 parts per billion smog standard. The State's "plan" – i.e. the federal gasoline fuel changes it relies on – only represents a 20-40 tons per day cut.
Where do the other 60 -160 tons a day in cuts come from?
To give you some idea of the size of that gap, the state estimates that all on and off road vehicles in the 10-county area will emit 161 tons per day of NOx in 2018.
State-of-the-art controls on all the cement plants might give you up to 15 tons a day. Electrification of the large compressors, another 15-16 tons per day eventually. After that it gets hard to find large volumes of cuts without the coal plants. And this is why the EPA should give cuts in VOC/methane a longer look than they have before – they're concentrated in the same areas where the region's worst-performing monitors are and they represent a huge source of climate change pollution that could also be another skin on the wall in addition to lowering smog levels.
There's no question the passage of HB40 has stymied grassroots progress toward more protective regulation of fracking by municipal governments in the Barnett Shale. It's thrown what was a fairly successful local movement into disarray. To date, there doesn't appear to be any consensus about strategies to combat the effects of the legislation.
But a way to outflank some of the impacts of HB 40 coming is coming down the pike, and it offers local fracktivists an opportunity to rally round a common, achievable goal – lowering emission levels across the board in the Barnett Shale. We can overlay a larger, stricter regional template for oil and gas regulation in place of 100 separate municipal ones.
What better way to nullify the efforts of the nullifiers in Austin?
This plan won't work.
That's the simple message from the three pages of new comments Region 6 EPA staff submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last month concerning its anti-smog plan for DFW.
That message begins with the cover letter, written by Mary Stanton, Chief of the State Implementation Plan Section for Region 6. "… additional local and regional ozone precursor emission reductions will be necessary to reach attainment by 2017."
How much in reductions? EPA estimates an additional 100-200 tons per day more in cuts of smog-forming pollution will be necessary to achieve compliance with the current 75 parts per billion ozone standard. "Without emission reductions on this scale, it is unlikely that the area will attain by the attainment date.”
To give you some idea of how large a number that is, TCEQ calculates that all gas and oil air pollution in DFW equals 78 tons per day, the Midlothian cement plants belch out over 18 tons per day, and all the power plants in the immediate DFW area, 21 tons per day. Totaled, those three sources add up to 117 tons of pollution a year.
All the cars and trucks on DFW roads are said to add up to 180 tons per day of pollution.
So the decrease in pollution EPA is saying is necessary to get down to the current ozone standard is huge.
But take a look at those obsolete East Texas coal plants outside the boundaries the DFW nonattainment area. TCEQ says they account for a total of 146 tons per day. Add Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which can get you up to 90% reductions in coal plant emissions, or close them down completely, add decreases from new controls on the cement kilns and oil and gas sources, and you're well on your way to amassing 200 tons a day of cuts in pollution.
Which do you think is more attractive to most DFW residents: permanently parking their cars, or putting new controls on the coal plants? Even though the coal plants harm the whole DFW airshed more than any other major source, they're not held accountable to the same regulatory requirements as sources closer to the center of the urban core, but which have less impact. Our cars must have special gasoline formulas in summer, we have to have HOV lanes, and we still go through Ozone Action Days, but the coal plants party like it's 1979. TCEQ is taking a hands-off approach to the plants and as a result the DFW region will continue to be in violation of the smog standard or huge cuts from other sources will be necessary.
TCEQ could have added new controls to the coal plants to the plan, but it chose not to. In fact, there are no new controls in the state's plan on any major sources of air pollution affecting DFW. EPA's new comments go to the heart of that choice. "Without additional emission reduction measures, we don’t see how the area will meet the standard of 75 ppb by the end of the 2017 ozone season," writes EPA staff.
EPA goes on to say TCEQ's computer modeling supporting it's do-nothing plan is "unrealistic," severely underestimating future smog levels, and delivering projections of decreases "that seem unlikely to be reached."
With this stance, EPA seems poised to reject this "attainment demonstration" part of the air plan as being insufficient. But it must wait to see how TCEQ responds to EPA comments about its modeling shortcomings and need for new cuts when the state officially submits its plan this July. Then, and ony then can the Agency approve or disapprove. We're going out on a limb here and predicting TCEQ won't change a thing, thus inviting EPA disapproval.
That's the pattern TCEQ has already established with its "screw you" response to the EPA's comments about the part of the plan dealing with "Reasonably Available Control Technology," or RACT, last February. This second part decides what new controls should be required of major sources of air pollution within the 10-County DFW "non-attainment" area – like the Midlothian cement plants and the thousands of oil and gas facilities checkerboarding the western half of the Metromess.
TCEQ says nothing new is required. EPA disagrees. EPA told TCEQ last year it had to do a new RACT review and lower the kiln's emission limits to account for a new generation of technology or it would have to reject the state's plan. TCEQ ignored the request, daring the EPA to disapprove. EPA seems more than willing to take them up on the offer.
And so while you're waiting for the state's computer modeling and suspect math to be rejected by EPA in July, you can probably expect to see EPA officially rejecting the RACT part of the state's plan sooner – maybe as soon as the next 60-90 days.
Despite the TCEQ going out of its way to submit an unacceptable plan to EPA, if the Agency pulls the trigger and begins a federal takeover of the DFW air plan, the Commission and the whole of Texas State Government will cry bloody murder about the usurpation of the state's authority and once again proclaim how "out of control" the EPA is on their way to filing suit.
This is why the rowdy eruption of public sentiment for an EPA plan at the hearing in Arlington two weeks ago was so critical (Thank you again). It's also why we now have to be about the business of getting DFW local governments, hospitals and school districts to pass resolutions in favor of an EPA takeover. The Agency will need this kind of public support to counter all the criticism it will take from the Usual Suspects in Austin and DC. If you're interested in helping us pass one of these resolutions in your county, city, school or hospital district, please let us know at: email@example.com
And as always, it's why you, and people you know should:
Those were not your father's treehuggers that showed up in Arlington last night.
Over 100 people, including 36 speakers over three hours, provided perhaps the angriest, and certainly the most profanity-laced evening of testimony ever heard in the two-decade history of state public hearings on DFW's dirty air. It's as if frustration over the last 20 years of State failures had finally found a cathartic, public release.
For the most part, speakers from communities across North Texas ignored the State and spoke directly to representatives of EPA, pleading for the Agency to take air quality planning out of the hands of a hostile Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
But when many speakers did address the State's efforts, they didn't parse any words – at least any words that can be printed in a family newspaper, or this blog. For the first time anyone can recall, f-bombs were hurled at TCEQ over its failure to take North Texas bad air seriously. Dallasite Gary Stuard set the tone for the event early on by saying it was time for residents "to quit being so polite" about their systematic poisoning. His message was taken to heart by many of the speakers that followed.
Old, young, male, female, Black, White, Latino, mainstream group, neighborhood group, Elected officials, students, business owners, doctors, asthma suffers, parents of asthma suffers, people concerned about climate change, about fracking, about coal plant pollution, about cement kilns – it didn't matter. Not a single speaker spoke in favor of the State's plan of doing nothing about rising smog levels.
Seizing on the day's headlines, Lance Irwin from Mansfield was the first, but not last person to compare the official neglect over lead in Flint, Michigan's water supply to pollution in DFW's air supply. Arlington residents spoke – and in one instance, sung – movingly about fracking contamination making their neighborhoods unlivable. More than one testimony was dedicated to a friend or relative who'd died from a lung disease. Equal parts despair and anger.
By the time the final speakers finished, it felt more like a church revival. The Church of the Unredeemed State Agency. When was the last time you heard people say they had "fun" at a pro forma public hearing?
To be sure, more traditional voices and statements were in full force. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a staff member urging the State to redo its plan. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel sent her aide to talk about the need to control coal plant pollution in the plan. Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson spoke for the need to grab this opportunity to make progress. Dr. Robert Haley of the Dallas County Medical Society and UT-SW did an excellent job of summarizing his recent study on the public health and economic costs of DFW smog and speaking to the Texas Medical Society resolution against the state plan. Rita Vinson, newly elected President of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations read a unanimous resolution passed by her group only the day before, calling for EPA to reject the plan. Lots of speakers recounted the long and winding road leading up to the current fact that DFW now has worse smog than Houston.
But it was the tossing aside of business meeting protocol and the pretense that the State had any interest in being there that made this a milestone event. Veterans of past hearings talked about how tired they were of repeating themselves. Newcomers couldn't understand how a State government that doesn't think smog is bad for you can write an effective anti-smog plan. Dentonites were rightfully resentful of seeing a plan that does nothing about smog from oil and gas sources being promoted by the same government that stole its municipal rights to regulate it themselves. Coarseness in language reflected rawness of feelings over yet another Texas attempt to undermine the EPA.
Although the weather was nasty, the major obstacle organizers faced yesterday was understandable skepticism about what good it would do to go to another useless TCEQ hearing. The answer was the need to provide EPA with political support to prepare for a federal takeover. That happened. Big Time. For three solid hours.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the worst public ass-kicking the TCEQ has ever received in DFW.
EPA sent three staff members, including those in charge of reviewing and commenting on the State plan. They took notes. We'll get to see what the Agency thinks about this "new" plan within the next three weeks after the comment period closes and its written review becomes part of the public record.
After that, it should be a relatively short time before EPA decides to officially reject the part of the plan dealing with new controls in the 10-County "non-attainment area" – the part the State didn't do even after EPA asked TCEQ to, and explicitly told the Commission it would reject the plan unless it did.
It will take EPA longer, perhaps until the end of the year, to make a decision about the rest of the plan – the part that relies on computer modeling and estimates of future pollution. It's more technically oriented and there's more nuance than the up or down legal opinion with the control section.
And for citizens?
Send an email to EPA urging them to reject the State's awful air plan for DFW
Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition urging EPA to reject the State's plan
Forward our two-and-a-half minute video to people you know are concerned about air quality – or should be.
Submit written comments on this plan to the TCEQ:
Please reference: "Dallas-Fort Worth Attainment Demonstration for the 2008 Eight-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Area, Project Number 2015-014-SIP-NR"
via the interwebs:
Or by snail mail:
Air Quality Division, TCEQ
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087
And get ready to campaign for resolutions supporting an EPA clean air plan for DFW from your local city council, county government, hospital districts, and school boards. We're all about building support for a federal takeover of our air quality planning between now and the end of the year when EPA is expected to make its final decision. We're coming to a governmental entity near you!
Lots is at stake. We can win the largest improvement in DFW air quality in a decade or wait another five years to try. Thursday night's showing makes clear many of us aren't willing to wait.
Onward Thru the Smog.
6:30 pm Thursday
616 Six Flags Drive Arlington (near I-30 and Hwy 360 – map)
– First come, first serve to speak (no reserved time)
– 3-5 minutes speaking time
– Talking Points here if you need them
– NEW! Sierra Club Event at 6 pm out front
How bad is the new State of Texas "clean air" plan for DFW?
So bad the Texas Medical Association passed a resolution to reject it.
That's the Texas. Medical. Association.
As far as we know, this is the first time the state's premier medical association has expressed a formal opinion about any state air plan.
They oppose the State's plan because it contains no new controls on any sources of pollution contributing to North Texas' chronic smog problem. Not a one. At a time when DFW smog levels are going up.
They oppose the State's plan because it allows dirty air in North Texas to keep killing people and making them sick, costi us $650 million every year. Human and financial costs which are completely preventable.
Join the TMA in taking a public stand.
Residents of Texas who want clean air have to speak-up to counter our State officials who ridicule the idea.
Come to the hearing on Thursday evening and tell the State why you don't trust them with your health. Urge the EPA to reject Austin's plan and write its own.
What the Docs Say:
Some of the harshest critics of the State's proposed do-nothing DFW air plan aren't members of any environmental group. They're doctors.
At its 2015 convention in November, the Texas Medical Association endorsed a resolution urging the Association to:
"…reject the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ's) 2015 State Implementation Plan (SIP) report and advocate for development of a new SIP report that conforms to the scientific, peer reviewed modeling methods developed by UT Southwestern and University of North Texas experts. TMA advocates for implementing reasonably available control measures at the state level capable of meeting national ozone standards, based on the UTSW and UNT validated models."
The resolution was the work of a delegation from the Dallas County Medical Society, headed up by Dr. Robert Haley, Epidemiologist at UT-Southwestern.
It was Haley who worked on a landmark study on local impacts of ozone that was released in tandem with Downwinder's own UNT computer air modeling study last fall. Those are the UTSW and UNT studies referenced in the TMA resolution.
Dr. Haley took the EPA's own software for estimating the health and economic costs of bad air, and applied it to DFW. What did he find?
Reducing smog by just 5 parts per billion in North Texas would:
1. Prevent 200 admissions to hospitals for respiratory illness every year
2. Prevent 400 ER visits to hospitals for respiratory illness every year
3. Prevent 140,000 lost school days every year
4. Prevent 100 premature deaths every year
5. Save $650 million a year in lost productivity
As it so happens, the most cost-effective path to lowering ozone levels across the region has been mapped out by the UNT study, which cloned the State's own computer model for DFW and ran the "what ifs" Austin isn't interested in asking anymore.
Applying off-the-shelf technology to East Texas coal plants, Midlothian cement kilns, and oil and gas facilities was shown by the UNT study to be the easiest ways to get smog levels down enough to comply with the current federal ozone standard. That's the "reasonably available control" part of the TMA resolution.
The State knows all this but refuses to include these controls in any DFW air plan – for the second time in 5 years.
Dr. Jim Walton, President of the Dallas County Medical Society took on that official stubbornness in a full-page editorial running in the group's newsletter:
"…once again TCEQ staff has announced that it sees no need to require new control measures on any major pollution sources, even while the Commission's own computer air modeling shows that DFW will remain above the 75 ppb standard….DFW is a chronic Clean Air Act violator, and much of it is avoidable. We can and should lead in this very practical and real issue that continues to threaten the health of our community."
And doctors are leading on this issue.
Despite the Dallas County Medical Society hosting its annual dinner on Thursday evening, Dr. Haley has said he'll join us in Arlington for the air plan hearing because of its importance. Come and thank him in person by adding your voice in urging EPA to take over the region's air plan.
Don't Let Gregg Abbott Speak For You on This Important Issue.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
First Floor Meeting Room
Public Hearing on DFW Air
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
If you're fighting fracking in your North Texas community, you have few options these days. The State of Texas is not only very not interested in hearing about fracking problems, it just passed a law that makes it illegal for your city to be too interested in hearing from you about those problems as well.
Enter another DFW anti-smog plan. In the past, these plans have been written by Austin and have tired their best to ignore the large volumes of smog-forming pollution from oil and gas sources. This new plan is no different. Left up to the State, there would be no new cuts in pollution from any major industrial source, including the gas industry.
But EPA may not leave it up to the state this time. There are already indications the EPA will reject the State's air plan for DFW as being inadequate and draft one of its own. That would be good news for local anti-fracking activists. Why? Because it could mean cutting lots and lots of different kinds Barnett Shale pollution throughout the region and help shift the costs of its harmful impacts to industry.
That's why if you're concerned about fracking, you owe to yourself to show-up at this Thursday's public hearing and tell the EPA you want them to reject the state's do-nothing air plan and instead implement a "Federal Implementation Plan" to clean up DFW's chronically smoggy air.
The Case For Cutting Oil and Gas Pollution in a DFW Anti-Smog Plan
1. The Oil and Gas Industry is a Large Source of Smog Pollution in North Texas
Look at the chart below for where and in what volumes the State believes smog-forming pollution will be coming from in 2017. The numbers are directly from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's DFW air plan. It's in TONS PER DAY.
Oil and Gas pollution is the fourth largest category of smog pollution in North Texas. It's the fourth largest category for Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution – the kind the State believes is most responsible for DFW smog. It's also the fourth largest source for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), another kind of smog pollution that many of us believe plays a bigger role than the State thinks.
And these are the State's own numbers so you can be sure they're underestimates.
For example, a recent review of studies estimated that the Barnett Shale gas production was leaking up to twice as much climate-damaging methane as the EPA predicts. Methane doesn't escape by itself. If it's leaking, so are smog-forming VOCs that come up with the Methane.
Bottom Line: a huge new category of smog pollution has been created in DFW in just the last 8 years.
2. Oil and Gas Air Pollution is making DFW Smog Worse
Even the State admits that pollution from Barnett Shale industry sources contributes to DFW smog, the only disagreement is by how much.
Take a look at another chart – one that tracks the "average regional" smog level over the decades. Notice the downward trend that stops around 2009, where it continues to hover around 85 ppb? Can you think of anything that began happening in DFW in a big way around 2008-9 that would have stopped that downward trend?
Part of the problem is location. Historically, DFW's worst-performing air monitors, the places where the air quality always seems to be worse at the end of every "ozone action day" are located in the Northwest part of the Metromess – Keller, Grapevine, Denton, and Eagle Mountain Lake. Predominant winds are from the southeast to the northwest in summer time, pushing all of DFW's pollution toward Denton and Wise Counties.
Imagine what happens when you begin to envelope those same northwest areas into the country's largest urban gas field. In 2011, the State estimated that there was more VOC pollution coming from O&G sources in the region than from all the cars and trucks on the road in North Texas at the time.
This impact has not escaped EPA's notice. In official comments filed last February the Agency wrote that those Northwest monitors have not seen their ozone numbers come down as much as other parts of the region and suggest the sea of O&G pollution surrounding them may be the reason.
Thanks to the landmark UNT study that cloned the State's own computer air model for the DFW plan, we know exactly what kind of influence O&G pollution has on those monitors – or at least what the impacts are using the State's underestimated numbers.
If you took away all the estimated 2017 pollution from the Barnett Shale in DFW, you'd see drops in ozone of…
5.4 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake air monitor site
5.3 ppb in Keller
4.9 in NW Ft. Worth
3.6 ppb in Denton
These reductions in ozone would be enough to bring all of these DFW air monitor sites into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard, and allow all the sites except Denton to reach the new 70 ppb federal ozone standard more quickly than the deadline of 2025.
Conversely – you can see these numbers as the added smoggy burden the industry is imposing on DFW now. According to the State itself, O&G pollution are raising ozone levels as much as 3 to 5 ppb across large parts of the region.
3. Large Cuts in O&G Pollution = Less Smog in DFW
If oil and gas pollution is a large source of smog pollution, it makes sense that cutting that pollution would lead to less smog. Because of the UNT report, we know how much regional smog would decrease if we took some steps to stop down O&G pollution.
For example, just converting all 647 large gas compressors (point sources) in North Texas from diesel or gas to electricity – something the industry says it can do in areas with air pollution problems – would take over 16 tons of NOx pollution out of the air each and every day and lead to a drop of over 3 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake site and between 1 and over 2 ppb at 10 other air monitor sites. That may not sound like much, but it's enough to send most of them into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard. And that's not even accounting for the decrease in Particulate Matter pollution that would accompany such a transition. Because compressors are the industry's largest source of Nitrogen Oxides, they should be a big target for a new EPA air plan for DFW.
VOC pollution could also decrease under an EPA plan. Under the EPA's proposed new methane rules, there are a series of guidelines for controlling the pollutant that would also end-up cutting other smog-forming and toxic VOC pollution as a side-benefit. We're talking Benzene and all the other nasties the human eye can't see coming out of a storage tank or dehydrator.
According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone." Areas like DFW – for the past two decades.
Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog, could be the beneficiaries of new EPA-written “Control Technique Guidelines.”
According to EPA, these CTGs “provide an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources. States would have to address these sources as part of state plans for meeting EPA’s ozone health standards.”
EPA gives states two years to include these controls in new air plans. Texas could include them now, in its current air plan, but it doesn't want to.
But if the EPA is writing our air plan instead, then these new VOC controls get put into the mix. Even a 50% cut in VOC emissions from the gas industry means 25 tons a day less air pollution from facilities over a wide area. That's worth fighting for.
If EPA rejects the state plan, it would take up to two years to implement a federal alternative. Even so, is there any other opportunity to cut as much oil and gas pollution in that amount of time? From new fedreal rules? Through local opposition? This is a chance to regionalize the fracking fight and reap large benefits.
Still steamed over HB40? Get mad AND get even.
Help us take the DFW air plan out of the State's hands, and give it to the EPA, where we can advance the cause in a way the state never dreamed of.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
6:30 pm Thursday
616 Six Flags Drive Arlington
When polluters cut smog pollution, they cut a lot of other kinds of pollution as well, including climate-damaging gases like CO2 and methane.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of this kind of pollution could be eliminated in the next air plan for Dallas-Ft. Worth as a result of requiring modern controls on coal plants, cement kilns, and oil and gas sources.
Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant in East Texas is the largest global warming polluter in the country. It released 16.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, the equivalent of 3.5 million cars.
Recent studies show facilities in the Barnett Shale Gas Play are leaking 50% to 90% more methane than the government estimates.
We need to cut pollution here, now.
That's why if you care about climate change, you'll want to show-up next Thursday night and speak in favor of the EPA rejecting a State of Texas plan that doesn't require any new cuts in pollution from any source.
Join your earth-hugging peers in calling for a new air plan written by EPA that includes cuts in local smog pollution that can also benefit the entire planet. In as little as two years, you could make a big difference to a big problem.
Think Globally. Act Locally.
Not just a bumper sticker.
When the Ash Grove cement plant in Midlothian modernized its operations to conform with new anti-smog rules and other regulations, it cut approximately 300,000 tons of CO2 pollution – a year. That's just one cement plant.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and a highly potent greenhouse gas, with over 80 times the 20-year warming power of carbon dioxide.
EPA estimates 750,000 to one million tons of methane is released by equipment leaks every year from facilities in the Barnett Shale, but a recent peer-reviewed study estimated methane emissions in the Barnett Shale may be twice as high as EPA thinks.
There are pending EPA rules to limit methane pollution at natural gas sites that could be rolled into this DFW air plan. Even a 50% cut in leaks in North Texas would mean an annual drop of 400-500,000 tons of climate changing pollution.
A good anti-smog plan from EPA will also put more pressure on the obsolete East Texas coal plants to close.These coal plants are the biggest reasons Texas status is the #1 Greenhouse Gas polluter in the U.S.
The fastest way to cut lots of greenhouse gases in the Belly of the Beast is with a good EPA anti-smog plan for DFW.
Come speak in support of an air plan for our region that would help reduce asthma attacks here, and the melting of glaciers in Greenland.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
First Floor Meeting Room