About Air and Water

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Glen Whitley does good - Judge to EPA: Beef up clean-air plan

By Faith Chatham - Aug. 3, 2007
I am frequently critical of Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley for his maze of associations which I view as conflicts of interest. However, he deserves kudos for his action recently. He took a bold move which deserves recognition. He is reported as the first elected official in this region to write a letter to the EPA objecting to the TCEQ's approval of the DFW Clean Air Plan. He urges more funding for passenger rail and mass transit in this region. Currently there is no mass transit in Arlington or Grand Prairie, two of the larger cities in this region. I hope that other officials will mirror this move and speak out for the protection of the health of our citizens. Judge Whitley nails it when he calls for controls on the emissions on gas drilling, tougher standards for power plants in Central and East Texas, a solution to the Tower 55 congestion which leaves locomotives idling, and greater funding for passenger rail and mass transit to move people instead of vehicles in the DFW metroplex. Judge Whitley's stance is chronicled in a Fort Worth Star Telegram article:
By Scott Streater - Fort Worth Star Telegram Sat, Jul. 28, 2007
FORT WORTH -- Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has issued a blistering critique of a state ozone reduction plan for Dallas-Fort Worth, arguing in a letter to federal regulators that the plan fails to protect public health because it does not take aggressive enough steps to clean the air.

Whitley, in a three-page letter to Richard Greene, the Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator in Dallas, urged the federal government to demand further pollution reduction from power plants and local cement kilns, and to put more money into expanding passenger rail and other mass transit to reduce auto pollution.

"I am urging you to withhold federal approval of the plan until it includes measures that will move the D/FW area closer to attainment of the federal health standard for ozone," he wrote. "The plan, as it stands now, fails to propose sufficient measures to protect the health of Tarrant County's 1.7 million residents and the more than 6.4 million residents in our urban North Texas region."

Whitley's letter, the first sent to the EPA by a local elected official since the state approved the plan in May, follows an unflattering analysis of the state plan last week by a Southern Methodist University engineer, who warns the EPA that it is inadequate.

The EPA must approve the State Implementation Plan, as it's called, which outlines exact steps the region will take to comply with federal ozone standards. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is struggling to meet the federal ozone standard by June 2010 or face severe sanctions.

Whitley said Friday that he hopes the letter will spur the EPA to strengthen the plan.

Greene said he will formally respond to Whitley in the next few weeks. However, he hinted Friday that the state cleanup plan will be modified.

"We've already told [the state] that we're looking for improvements in this plan," said Greene, whose staff is meeting with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to resolve their differences. "They have been receptive. They are listening. We are exploring ways to improve the plan, and to get further emission reductions."

Greene said he has talked to local leaders and state regulators about including a requirement that all government agencies in the region retrofit diesel-powered equipment with pollution controls. Most of the cost would be paid for under a state grant program.

Despite the criticisms, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials "remain confident" that the plan is adequate and will be approved, said Terry Clawson, a commission spokesman.

Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, who has publicly criticized the state plan before, praised Whitley for sending the letter.

"The fact is, the plan they have adopted does not do anything to clean the air," Brooks said. "It's just a wholly inadequate plan."

Whitley concluded his letter to Greene by insisting that federal and state regulators explore all air-quality improvement options.

"The plan to improve air quality in North Texas must succeed," he wrote. "Failure to meet tough air quality standards is not an option."

Ground-level ozone

The federal government regulates ozone as a health concern.

At high concentrations, ozone can trigger asthma attacks, stunt lung development in children and aggravate bronchitis, emphysema and other respiratory problems.

The Dallas-Fort Worth nonattainment area consists of nine counties: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall and Tarrant.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, needs lots of sunlight and heat to form. Ozone season in Dallas-Fort Worth runs from May through October.

Ozone is produced when nitrogen oxides mix with volatile organic compounds. Those come mostly from automobile exhaust and industrial smokestacks. Trees also produce the organic compounds as part of photosynthesis.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Another article on Judge Whitley's letter to the EPA appeared in the Star Telegram Sunday, July 28th.
Needing a better plan for our air
By GLEN WHITLEY Special to the Star-Telegram
Editor's note: Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley sent the following to EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard Greene on Thursday. It is being published with the judge's permission.
Special to the Star-Telegram

Star-Telegram/Ron Jenkins
The Fort Worth skyline is shrouded in pollution as traffic flows along Interstate 35W north of the city on Aug. 8, 2003. Editor's note: Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley sent the following to EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard Greene on Thursday. It is being published with the judge's permission.

I am writing to express my continued concern about the state's proposed clean air plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

I first stated my concern about the failure of this plan to protect public health at a state hearing on a draft of the plan in February, long before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted to submit a revised and weaker plan to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As you know, these revisions weakened an already tenuous clean air plan. Therefore, I am urging you to withhold federal approval of the plan until it includes measures that will move the D-FW area closer to attainment of the federal health standard for ozone.

Other than in the Houston area, Tarrant and Denton counties suffer from the worst air pollution in Texas. The rest of the Metroplex is not far behind. North Texas residents are constantly put at risk by their chronic exposure to levels of ozone that exceed the current health standard. The plan, as it stands now, fails to propose sufficient measures to protect the health of Tarrant County's 1.7 million residents and the more than 6.4 million residents in our urban North Texas region.

Further, the recommendation by an EPA science advisory panel to tighten the ozone standard by about 15 percent, and EPA's own proposal to tighten the standard by about 10 percent, make our situation in North Texas even more troublesome.

The state plan should provide measures to bring the D-FW area into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act by 2010. However, an independent analysis of the plan by a Southern Methodist University scientist shows that it is inadequate and has little chance of succeeding.

Federal law allows Texas to argue that the plan will bring air quality in the region close enough to what is required under the Clean Air Act. Based on that, state officials say, the EPA should approve the plan. However, the EPA can only approve the plan if it believes the state's technical evidence and other data demonstrate that the entire D-FW region will be in compliance with the current federal ozone standard. But to reach that goal, ozone levels in the D-FW area would have to drop dramatically.

Under the revised state plan, ozone levels at four air monitors in the D-FW area would be out of compliance, up from two monitors in the draft plan.

Excessive ozone levels at two of those monitors may outweigh the state's other evidence of regional compliance with the Clean Air Act.

In addition to the ozone we create here, air pollution is driven into North Texas by weather and winds. It is transported into our region from other areas. It travels south from the Ohio River Valley. It comes from the Houston area and from East Texas -- often creating high background levels.

Add that to our own homemade ozone, and it becomes doubly difficult to meet federal clean air standards.

In 2001, the EPA approved a state clean air plan for North Texas that led to some significant air pollution control measures and improvements. Most of those measures involved reducing on-road vehicle emissions, about half the local air pollution problem. Cars and gasoline-powered trucks now undergo emission testing.

The program to get the worst-polluting vehicles off the road or get them fixed is also successful. But the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan -- a program that offers grants to retrofit or replace older diesel engines with newer, cleaner ones -- needs to meet its goals. Voluntary measures, like high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and other traffic control measures, may help, but that will not get us entirely where we need to go.

Also, the Texas Legislature must give North Texas the tools necessary to implement a regional passenger rail initiative. Such a system will result in fewer cars on the road, now and in the future, and reduce air pollution.

As we make progress, as new cars run cleaner because of technology and as older polluting cars leave the streets, non-road sources of pollution become an ever-increasing share of locally and regionally produced ozone.

Pollution from diesel equipment and locomotives -- like those that sit idling at the Tower 55 rail crossroads in Fort Worth -- must be addressed. Additionally, pollution from industrial sources like cement kilns and power plants must be addressed.

We can leave no stone unturned in our effort to improve air quality.

Now is not the time to relax our effort to provide clean air for the citizens of the region. We need an honest and accurate across-the-board assessment of our pollution sources and a full disclosure and application of all possible pollution control measures and remedies.

We need to use the best available control technology to reduce pollution linked to emissions from cement kilns and power plants, train engines and on- and off-road vehicles.

Electricity generating power plants in Central and East Texas should have to meet the same emissions standards as power plants in the D-FW area. Additional air pollution from new natural-gas drilling rigs and compressors must be addressed.

Smog and unhealthy ozone readings are an unpleasant fact of life in North Texas. It's been that way for decades. Air pollution compromises the health of our children, our seniors and those with chronic respiratory disease. It affects all of us. It compromises economic development and our business climate. It could lead to penalties such as restrictions on industry and the loss of federal highway dollars that would harm development in this fast-growing region.

The plan to improve air quality in North Texas must succeed. Failure to meet tough air quality standards is not an option.

Glen Whitley is Tarrant County judge.

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