By RANDY LEE LOFTIS - The Dallas Morning News - Saturday, June 9, 2007
Sometime between mid-December and late May, the most important environmental effort in North Texas took a turn. As a result, achieving an elusive clean-air goal by late 2009 for a region that is home to 5 million people might be harder.
Changes that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality made to the region's new smog plan from its proposed to its final versions eased pressure on oil and gas companies, electric utilities and cement makers to cut their emissions. Changes to the way local vehicle emissions plans are counted also affected the final version.
Under either version of the plan, local pollution levels still would be significantly lower in 2009 than they are now, since each version orders cuts in the emissions that form lung-scarring ozone, or smog, in the air.
However, the final version, which two of the state agency's three commissioners voted to approve May 23, allows higher ozone levels than the earlier version, triggering concerns among health groups and federal officials. That's because the final plan doesn't require the same deep pollution cuts throughout North and East Texas as the draft – 70 tons per day of reductions in the draft plan, 49 tons per day in the approved version.
In just the nine-county Dallas-Fort Worth area, where emissions have the biggest impact, the local cuts went from 33 tons per day in the draft to 27 tons per day in the final version.
The biggest loss to the plan came when a group of local traffic control measures didn't make their way into the final version. Timing and accounting problems led to that shortfall.
Emissions reduction requirements shrank for engines that run pipeline compressors across East Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth area power plants and Ellis County cement plants. The cement plants, North Texas' biggest industrial polluters, had faced 11 tons per day in reductions under the draft. That reduction dropped to 10.4 tons per day in the final version.
Environmental groups had sought twice as much reduction from cement plants.
In each case, the reduced requirements for cuts by industries came after the affected companies complained that the initially proposed cuts were too expensive or impractical.
The higher emissions translate to higher ozone levels under the final version than under the draft. The draft would have left two of the nine local monitoring stations with higher ozone levels in 2009 than the federal standard, 85 parts per billion. In the final version, that number increases to four.
...However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must determine whether the plan meets federal requirements, already has signaled concern over the changes. EPA Regional Administrator Richard Greene wrote to the TCEQ on May 23 to say the agency might not be able to approve the revised plan.
The lingering smog problem in Texas has some Dallas-Fort Worth business leaders worried about air pollution's effects on people's health and the region's economy.
"We still need more help," said Garrett Boone, chairman of the Coppell-based the Container Store company and co-founder of Texas Business for Clean Air. "We're really concerned about North Texas. Austin and Waco are probably right on the edge; Austin's probably, I guess, barely in attainment. There's a whole bunch of things that need to be done."
...The average ozone level in North Texas has dropped since the mid-1990s, but it is still too high to meet the federal health standard. In the plan's baseline period, 1999-2001, all nine local monitors were over the federal limit of 85 parts per billion. To meet the federal standard, all monitors must be below the limit.
The worst ozone was in Denton, with a three-year reading of 101.5 parts per billion. Next was Frisco, with 100.3.
Ozone tends to be highest north and northwest of Dallas County because prevailing winds carry the region's emissions in those directions. By midafternoon, when temperatures rise, the sun cooks the emissions into ozone.
Neither the draft nor the final state plan achieves the federal goal outright. Under the draft, the highest ozone level predicted for 2009 is 87.7 ppb in both Denton and Frisco. Under the final plan, the highest levels would be 88.7 ppb in Frisco and 88.6 in Denton.
The final plan also would have two additional monitors higher than the federal limit. ... The EPA's outside science advisors unanimously endorsed a much tougher standard, as low as 70 ppb, citing what they called compelling medical evidence that the current standard doesn't protect people.