Thursday, September 6, 2007

Clean Air for North Texas: what went wrong?

There is an important article in the Dallas Observer by Matt Pulle this week. It is the cover story (“Choke On It”), and it chronicles the efforts of environmentalists, elected officials, and business people in the North Texas region to clean up our terribly polluted air. The premise of the article is that these folks were well intentioned, but were not prepared to fight “the Austin way” during this year’s legislative session, and that they did not have a high profile champion for their cause (like the polluters did with former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk).

There’s actually some encouraging stuff in here, in that people in the region are relatively united and have solid plans that will significantly reduce air pollution in the region. Proposals range from getting dirty cars off the roads to adopting California exhaust standards to cleaning up our power plants and cement kilns to encouraging more mass transit. And much of it can be done with minimal economic impact (long term I think it would be easy to argue that the economic impact is positive).

The problem is that it is not up to the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee to present a plan to the EPA on how the region will come into compliance with federal clean air standards. It is up to the state. And the state legislature and governor are in the pockets of the polluters. So the state ignored the recommendations of the steering committee and presented a toothless plan to the EPA. From the article:

The members of the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee spent all those hours devouring graphs of chemical emissions to help the state draft the clean air plan for their region. Its members are in the best position to do just that. The committee has to live with the health and economic consequences of their clean air proposals. So what group has more credibility in making long-term decisions for the future of North Texas?

Well, for the state environmental commission, it wasn't the locals. When the state agency unveiled a draft of its clean air plan in December, it ignored the committee's main recommendations, particularly its calls for tighter regulations on cement kilns and power plants. It also ignored the steering committee's proposal to adopt California's emissions standards. Environmentalists lambasted the state's plan, saying that it had no chance of bringing North Texas in compliance with the 2010 federal deadline.

"The steering committee met for a year and a half before giving their recommendations, and as far as the state is concerned they simply weren't a factor," says Schermbeck with the environmental group Downwinders at Risk. "They raised their middle finger to what the locals here recommended."


In reference to the state’s plan, SMU professor Al Armendariz states: “They truly don't care. It's as if their clean air plan was farmed to a consultant in Taiwan. That's the level of care they are giving to the citizens of Dallas and Fort Worth."

Many of these folks on the steering committee are now lobbying the EPA to reject the state’s plan. Let’s hope they succeed. EPA officials have already stated that the plan will not bring the region into compliance.

And let’s also hope that we can get the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to start working for the people of Texas and not the polluters. It would also be nice to have someone from North Texas on the commission.

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