About Air and Water

Thursday, May 24, 2007

State gives OK to ozone plan

By SCOTT STREATER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Thu, May. 24, 2007
The state approved a controversial plan Wednesday for fixing Dallas-Fort Worth's longstanding ozone pollution problem despite a last-minute warning from a top federal official that the plan may be too weak to win federal approval.

Richard Greene, the Environmental Protection Agency's regional director in Dallas, sent a memo to state regulators Wednesday saying a preliminary federal review of the plan found "significantly fewer emissions reductions" than originally proposed.

Without those additional reductions, Greene said, ozone levels in four areas -- Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton and Frisco -- could continue to violate federal standards by the 2010 federal deadline.

All 19 of the region's ozone monitors must meet the standards for the Dallas-Fort Worth area to comply.

"The state has no desire to really regulate these kilns," he said.

State commissioners, during the nearly four-hour hearing in Austin on the Dallas-Fort Worth plan, defended their decision, saying they believe the plan will be enough for the region to meet the federal standards by 2010.

The plan

The clean-air plan for North Texas approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday:

Requires cement kilns to cut ozone-forming emissions by 40 percent, less than local leaders had hoped.

Curbs vehicle emissions through ongoing state programs to replace or retrofit off-road construction equipment with pollution controls, to replace the oldest, dirtiest vehicles and to assist low-income motorists in making repairs if their car or truck fails the annual emissions inspection.

Counts on Federal Reformulated Gasoline standards to reduce automobile emissions.

Pushes for expansion of programs to promote carpooling and public transit.

"I am very concerned by these reports, and worry that the changes from the proposal, if adopted, would convert the [plan] from one that I believed had a strong chance of approval to [a plan] that ... may not be approvable," Greene wrote.

Local opposition

Greene's concerns were echoed by a wide array of area leaders and clean-air advocates, who said the plan could doom the area to potentially severe federal sanctions for noncompliance.

"Apparently, they don't consider what we think is important for our communities," Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said.

"I think it's a tragedy that we don't do everything that we can to keep the air as clean as possible. I'm very disappointed."

Of particular concern are three cement plants -- Ash Grove Cement, TXI Operations and Holcim Inc. -- southeast of Fort Worth that are the largest industrial sources of ozone-forming pollution in the region.

The plan approved Wednesday calls for the plants to cut emissions by 40 percent.

But local leaders wanted the state to include a mandate for the cement plants to at least test cutting-edge pollution-control technology that would chemically change emissions into harmless water vapor.

The technology has the potential to slash ozone-forming emissions from the three plants by as much as 90 percent.

The state clean-air plan, however, calls for much lower emissions reductions, allowing the industry to install less expensive -- and less effective -- pollution controls.

"We think this community is still in danger from emissions from the cement kilns in Midlothian," Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks said. "Without more stringent standards, the state has not done anything to help us at all."

State backing

Instead, the state commission Wednesday amended the clean-air plan to allow cement plants to emit slightly more ozone-forming pollutants than originally proposed after cement industry leaders told the commission's three-member board during its meeting in Austin that the plan was too tough.

"We cannot achieve these low numbers," said Michel Moser, the manager at Holcim's Midlothian cement plant.

Jim Schermbeck with Downwinders at Risk, a vocal cement plant critic, said he wasn't surprised.
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