About Air and Water

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Residents press for tougher air-pollution rules at state agency's meeting in Arlington

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS - The Dallas Morning News - June 25, 2010

ARLINGTON – People who gathered Thursday night at Arlington City Hall were mad about smog, and they were even madder about the state agency in charge of fighting smog.

At a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality meeting about the latest round of strategies for cleaning up the air in North Texas, about 200 people cheered and applauded calls for tougher pollution rules.

They jeered – and coughed in unison, holding up paper masks that looked like gas masks – when state officials couldn't answer their questions.

For Susan Cooper of Richardson, it was her second attempt to press for stronger state action. She said she told a commission hearing in 2007 that she was mad about poor air quality.

"Today I am even angrier," she said. "Our air quality is even worse."

She said she was tired of picking up visitors at the airport who ask after landing, "What is that ugly brown stuff?"

The state agency must come up with a new smog plan because the region didn't meet a federal deadline this spring – far from the first time that's happened. The federal limit the region is still striving to meet dates from 1997.

North Texas is even further from meeting the much-tougher limits imposed since then.

Faith Chatham of DFW Concerned Citizens praised the commission's staff for becoming more responsive to public concerns. The problem, she said, is a lack of political support from their superiors.

"There are days when I can't open my windows because it makes me sick," she said.

She wanted environmental inspections exempted from repeated state budget cuts and a halt to new gas drilling.

Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk showed the commission's own slides that indicate how pollution from Ellis County cement plants spreads across the region. From 1997 to 2007, he said, 70 percent of ozone violations occurred in the area where the cement kilns' plumes go.

He blasted the state agency for choosing which time period to use for computer modeling of possible solutions without asking the public for advice.

"You have to see the flaw in the process when you've already made the most important decisions without any input from D-FW officials or the public," Schermbeck said.

Gina Cole of Arlington demanded jail for pollution violators and a crackdown on emissions from gas drilling in Tarrant County.

When Susana M. Hildebrand, the commission's chief engineer, answered, "I'm telling you that we are looking at those monitors," the audience responded with more coughs.

Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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