Tag Archives: ozone

Sierra Club Urges Advisory Board to Recommend Strong Standard to Cut Smog Science-Based Guidelines Needed to Protect Children’s Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 26, 2014

Contact: Anna Oman, (202) 650-6061

Washington, D.C. – Today the Sierra Club urged the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee to recommend a strong, science-based standard to protect Americans from smog. The Committee provides independent advice to the Environmental Protection Agency as it seeks to update the country’s smog pollution limits according to the Clean Air Act.

“Our children have waited long enough for strong protections from dangerous smog,” said Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt. “We know that smog triggers asthma, sending tens of thousands of children to the emergency room every year. Asthma is the number one health reason that American children miss school, and it costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year in missed work, medical care, and even premature deaths. With the technology readily available to dramatically reduce smog, it would be unconscionable not to act. It’s time to clean up our air and protect our families.”

Smog (also called ground-level ozone) is a widespread air pollutant that, when inhaled, harms the delicate lining of our lungs, and has been likened to getting a sunburn on your lungs. Smog pollution is particularly harmful to children, seniors, and persons with asthma, whose lungs are especially sensitive. Research has shown that exposure to smog causes respiratory problems including asthma, may even affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and can lead to premature death.

“Six years ago, the Bush Administration sided with big polluters and set standards that were weaker than what EPA and independent medical experts knew were needed to protect our children’s health,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “President Obama promised to strengthen this standard, and the American people should not have to wait any longer for action to clean up dangerous smog pollution.”

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Sierra Club comments to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council on the smog standard can be viewed here.

Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club tells EPA: Protect Texas children by lowering the ozone standard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began public hearings this week in North Carolina to consider whether to lower the national health standard on ground-level ozone. Formed on hot sunny days by emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions– primarily resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and industry – ground-level ozone directly impacts lung function and can lead to asthma, bronchitis, early death and a host of other health-related illnesses. Particularly at risk are the very young, the very old and those with preexisting health conditions.

Not surprisingly, filed public comments showed strong support among environmental and health advocates like Sierra Club and the American Lung Association for lowering the standard, while utilities, coal companies, the Texas Public Policy Foundation – an industry-funded conservative think tank – and even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the science does not support lowering the ozone standard. A full copy of the Lone Star Chapter’s comments can be found here.

At issue is whether or not the EPA should lower the level of pollution in the ambient air  at which an area would be considered to be in violation of the national air quality standard. The current standard of 75 parts per billion – measured as an average over eight hours — was developed in 2008 under former President Bush, while the new proposed standard would range between 60 and 70 parts per billion and has been under discussion in the public, in the White House, in Congress and in court ever since.

 The Sierra Club filed extensive comments supporting lowering the standard to 60 PPB based on hundreds of peer-reviewed health studies showing children and others do exhibit reduced lung function and real health effects at a level of 60.

 If a standard of 60 were adopted, it is likely that all major urban areas in Texas – based on the last three years of ozone data – would fail to meet the standard, including Houston and Dallas – which are currently out of compliance with the standard – along with Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Tyler-Longview, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur and El Paso. Even cities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – generally far removed from large industrial sources – might violate such a standard. 

Though a new, lower standard would be challenging for most of the state to meet, no Texas citizen should have to breath outdoor air that is unsafe.  Fortunately, there are solutions. Within our cities, generally the largest amount of pollution that leads to high levels of ground-level ozone comes from vehicles. Texas can and should continue to clean up our cars and trucks by not only making sure we meet the federal standards for new vehicles but also by fully allocating the money from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which provides grants to clean up older mobile vehicles. There will be nearly $1 billion of TERP funds that could be allocated to clean up our mobile sources of pollution when the Legislature meets again in 2015.

We also must take strong action against major point sources of pollution. According to the TCEQ’s 2012 Point Source Emissions Inventory, about one-third of all nitrogen oxide emissions from industrial sources in Texas come from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, out of the 32 boilers in Texas that burn coal that are not scheduled for retirement, 24 lack basic control technology known as Selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a type of scrubber which removes much of the nitrogen oxide pollution. These coal plants without modern pollution control belched more than 78,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into our airways, leading to higher ozone levels throughout Texas. We would note that a special case are the coal plants owned by Luminant, which are large and located primarily in areas that influence ozone formation in Dallas and Waco. In 2007, they were purchased by a holding company known as EFH, which made a commitment to add SCR on many of their units, including Martin Lake, but have thus far failed to do so. Collectively, the Martin Lake units contributed more than 11,500 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012, the highest single source in the state. Requiring that all such units install modern pollution control on their stacks – or retire – could significantly reduce these emissions.

We must also implement new regulations to clean up emissions from oil and gas fracking activities. The Railroad Commission of Texas is permitting some 20,000 oil and gas wells every year, the majority of which are being fracked. The well completions, flaring and venting of gas, plus their operation, processing, transportation and storage of the oil and gas and related materials is literally leaking thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, leading to the creation of more ozone over our city centers. This problem is particularly pronounced in San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth due to the fracking boom. Yet our air quality regulations are outdated to deal with this new source of pollution. Finally, while many of our cement plants have updated their control equipment, about half have not, and they are major contributors to ozone formation throughout Central Texas, contributing about 16,000 tons of NOx per year.

Other solutions include making future buildings more efficient, growing renewable energy and energy efficient appliances and retrofitting existing buildings. These solutions have not been fully explored in Texas.

Yes meeting a new ozone standard would be challenging, but if our leaders at the White House, in Congress, at the Pink Dome and at our own agency – the TCEQ – will actually work on solutions rather than delay implementing a lower standard– we can reduce ozone levels, improve health, save lives and create jobs.

Sierra Club tells TCEQ to scrap their emissions inventory for State Implementation Plan at Public Hearing in Houston

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In a sparsely attended public hearing this week, Sierra Club’s Brandt Mannchen told the TCEQ that their proposed Emissions Inventory for the eight-hour ozone State Implementation Plan was grossly inadequate — particularly on “area” sources like oil and gas drilling and dry cleaners and emissions from the ports — and that it was impossible for the public to recreate the numbers. The TCEQ is required to submit a 2011 Emissions Inventory as part of the State Implementation Plan for the Eight-Hour Ozone standard of 75 parts per million. Both the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are considered “non-attainment” for ozone because they consistently violate those standards. Other cities like Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Tyler-Longview-Marshall have also violated the standard on occasion though not enough to be considered non-attainment.

The 2011 EI is important because it establishes the baseline by which TCEQ must show how it will reduce emissions of the pollutants — nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds – that create ground-level ozone pollution. In addition to the EI itself, the state must list regulations which will help limit emissions and if necessary develop additional regulatory and voluntary controls to show the state will meet the health-based standards. Getting the EI right – as Brandt mentioned in his comments – is essential. The Lone Star Chapter is working with our local Houston Regional Group and Dallas and Fort Worth regional groups to submit comments on the EI by the January 27th deadline.

Despite the stakes, Mannchen was only joined only by two other Sierra Club members and a smattering of others — none of whom spoke.  Among other issues raised by Mannchen was the failure of the EI to even consider the impact of emissions from outside the non-attainment areas — including large coal-fired power plants and the thousands of oil and gas facilities in the Eagle Ford, and Haynes areas which can impact ozone formation; the use of old 2009 data to generate numbers for a 2011 Emissions Inventory; and poor calculation of emissions from maritime vessels in the Houston Port.

Tomorrow, those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area get their chance to speak, January 16th.

Meeting is in Arlington on Thursday, January 16th at 2 PM at the Arlington City Hall Building in the Council Chambers (101 w. Abrams Street). For information about the proposed EI and related documents, check out this TCEQ Hot Topics page. 

Even as TCEQ develops this EI and the SIP, the EPA is actively considering lowering the ozone standard to between 65 and 74 from the current 75 parts per billion. This could have a profound effect in Texas, forcing communities from Laredo to San Antonio to Tyler to develop more robust controls.

Wake Up and Stop Texas from Burning, Governor Perry

 Texas is in an unprecedented environmental emergency.

Eighty-one percent of the state is currently suffering exceptional drought.  It’s the worst one-year drought Texas has experienced in 116 years of state records. 

 Texas is literally on fire.  Over 3.6 million acres have burned in wildfires topping the record 1.8 million acres burned in 2010 with less than four months left.  There’ve been over 21,000 fires in Texas and wildfires in the state for 300 straight days. The Bastrop fire has been burning out of control for six days and nearly 1,400 homes have been destroyed 30 miles from the state capitol leaving Austin in clouds of toxic smoke. 

CLIMATE CHANGE Governor Perry has shown concern about the severe drought and wildfires.  Now it’s time for Perry to stop denying the root causes of climate change and take action to address those causes.

Climate change is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  Coal plants are the largest industrial source of carbon dioxide (CO2), the chief global warming gas.  Texas’ 19 coal-fired plants are the worst industrial cause of life-threatening, climate triggered perils that we are experiencing.  Texas coal-fired plants emit over 150 Million Tons of CO2 every year – over 99% of Texas coal plant air pollution — is currently unregulated.  Defended by Governor Perry, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Texas Public Utility Commission, the Texas coal plants are continuing to heat our atmosphere, fueling the drought conditions leading to wildfires and putting 24 million Texans in harm’s way.

Texans’ health and lives are at risk!  Governor Perry and his appointees who lead Texas state agencies must address the biggest root cause of climate change in our state – coal plant CO2 emissions.

 OZONE, TOO   Beside smoke from wildfires, 18 million Texans are breathing harmful ozone.  Ozone is caused when nitrogen oxide emissions from factories like coal plants mix with volatile organic compounds in sunlight creating ground-level smog.  According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texans have suffered 56 bad air days in 2011 when the ozone levels were unsafe. 

 After cutting funds by 75% from the Texas Forest Service year, Governor Perry is now calling for help to fight wildfires from the same federal government that he attacked in law suits for trying to protect Americans air from unsafe coal plant pollution.  Perry enlisted the TCEQ, the Rail Road Commission, and the Texas PUC to fight new federal safeguards against both CO2 and ozone.

 By fighting federal safeguards against ozone, Governor Perry and state agency leaders are denying that serious problem too.  They need to wake up to the reality of our ozone problem and help, not hinder, efforts to clean up our air and cool the atmosphere.

 WHAT’S BAD FOR BUSINESS?  Perry, ERCOT – Texas’ electricity grid operator, and the PUC claims that Texas doesn’t have enough electricity sources in our state and that the better ozone standard would hurt business and cost jobs.  Yet, ERCOT’s own reports show that the grid was secure even when 5000 additional megawatts were forced off-line. 

 There are many non-polluting steps we can take to manage electricity demand more efficiently while generating lower pollution from Texas power plants.

 To Governor Perry, ERCOT, and PUC, we say: Wake up! 

 The price tag for drought and wildfire destruction is too high.  Losses to Texas’ agriculture alone were about $5.2 billion before the Labor Day weekend fires. We now face greater costs. Ignoring climate change and fighting, rather than supporting, clean energy solutions is costing Texans lives, homes, and jobs.

 FIRST RESPONDERS COMMITMENT  On the campaign trail, Governor Perry has repeatedly criticized public works programs like the New Deal, yet Texas firefighters fought to protect the beautiful cabins built by New Deal workers in Bastrop State Park this week.

 Perry, ERCOT, and the PUC need to respond like our brave fire fighters putting out the blazing wildfires across Texas.  The Governor and state leaders must recognize and extinguish the root cause of these problems – the massive burning of coal in coal-fired power plants in Texas.  There’s a safer, cleaner, cheaper way, Governor, and the stakes are too high to continue to allow the burning of dirty coal.

Neil Carman, PhD Chemist, Sierra Club Clean Air Program Director, September 9, 2011

Gasping for Air: White Stallion’s Threat to Houston’s Health

Study Predicts More Unhealthy Air for Houstonians if Proposed Coal Plant Built

 New air quality modeling analysis of the potential White Stallion coal plant predicts dangerous levels of smog for Houston residents

Yesterday, Houston’s Vice Mayor Pro Tem, City Council Member Ed Gonzalez gathered with health and environmental advocates in front of an eighteen-foot inhaler at the reflection pool outside Houston City Hall to release Sierra Club’s new study showing the potential risks to Houston residents of increased ozone smog from the proposed White Stallion coal plant.

We must do everything in our power to ensure clean air for our families, neighbors and friends,” said Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem, City Council Member Ed Gonzalez.  “The proposed White Stallion Energy Center, if built, would be located just 20 miles outside the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria non-attainment region.  I’m concerned that it would put the City of Houston at greater risk for additional bad air days and affect the quality of life for our citizens.”

Sierra Club’s new report, White Stallion’s Potential Impact on Houston Air Quality, prepared by Dr. Tammy M. Thompson with MIT’s Joint Program for the Science and Policy of Global Change finds:

  • Ground level ozone concentrations, or smog, measured at air quality monitors in the Houston area and averaged over eight hours, are often above the 84 parts per billion (ppb) limit, a National Ambient Air Quality Standard set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997.  The Houston area therefore has been designated a “non-attainment” area for ozone and the City will struggle to meet attainment of the 84 ppb ozone standard by the year 2018.  The US EPA will announce in mid-2011, a new, health-based standard that will be a value between 60 and 70 ppb.
  • White Stallion proposes to release emissions of 4,048 tons/year of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), 288 tons/year of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and 5780 tons/ year of Carbon Monoxide (CO) from two stacks that would be located near Bay City in Matagorda County about 75 miles to the Southwest of Houston.
  • For the Houston area monitors, the maximum increases in daily peak ozone concentrations averaged over 8 hours and averaged across all days of the episode when ozone values were greater than 70 ppb, 65 ppb, and 60 ppb was 0.03 ppb, 0.04 ppb, and 0.04 ppb respectively.

The potential threat of additional pollution in the Houston area from the proposed White Stallion plant is cause for concern from Houston parents of children and Dr. Stuart L. Abramson. 

Dr. Abramson, a member of the Leadership Council for the American Lung Association of the Plains-Gulf Region and a Houston area, board-certified allergist/immunologist and asthma specialist warned of threats to public health from the proposed White Stallion coal plant saying —“There are already substantial health effects seen in sensitive individuals at current levels of ozone air pollution in the Greater Houston area.  When our Houston air quality intermittently exceeds the health-based standards, the pollution levels trigger yellow, orange, and red alert status.  The additional pollution from projected emissions from the White Stallion power plant, though proposed for 75 miles southwest of Houston, could only exacerbate ozone levels in the Greater Houston area and make it more difficult for sensitive individuals, particularly those with respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.”

Lydia Avila, Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, “The last thing Houston needs is another source of pollution that’s going to put our community in even greater risk of health problems. It’s time for the City of Houston to take a real stand against the proposed White Stallion coal plant and be an even bigger advocate for clean energy.”

 Background Information – White Stallion Facing Obstacles

Although the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave White Stallion a permit, the permit was remanded after a legal challenge showed that White Stallion filed multiple and conflicting plot plans to different governmental agencies.

The proposed White Stallion coal plant faces obstacles and may not be built:

  1. Air permit remanded back to TCEQ
  2. 404 Permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  3. Waste Water Permit from TCEQ
  4. Water contract from LCRA
  5. Other economic obstacles

Posted by Donna Hoffman, Communications Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.  Thanks Jared Pesseto, Sean, and Ben for inflating that humongous inhaler hand in front of Houston City Hall.

Check out the photo album on the Texas Sierra Club page on Facebook!

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Thank you – Mayor Parker for a taking action on White Stallion

Yesterday Sierra Club members lined up at the Houston city council meeting to thank Mayor Parker for her leadership by writing a letter requesting an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed White Stallion coal plant.

If built – White Stallion would emit tons of toxic pollutants including greenhouse gases, ozone forming pollutants, mercury, lead, and more.  This would have a major impact on the Houston-Galveston area.  Below is a blog post talking more about the issue from Matt Tejada with Air Alliance Houston.

To read Mayor Parker’s letter – click here.

From Matthew Tejada, Ph. D – April 19th, 2011

Environmentalists across Texas would like to express our gratitude to Houston Mayor Annise Parker for joining forces with the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Bay City Port Authority, and other concerned agencies and local citizens in asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do the right thing: Require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed White Stallion coal plant.

In a letter dated April 18, 2011, Mayor Parker asked for an EIS, expressing concern to the Corps that White Stallion’s proximity to the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria ozone non-attainment region would “put my city at greater risk for additional bad air days and put at risk the investment made by industries within this area to clean up our air.”

Mayor Parker also wrote: “Houston’s industries have put time and money into reducing our pollution. Allowing such a large new source of nitrogen oxide (which is a key component of ozone), mercury, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, and lead from White Stallion to be emitted so closely to this area should be examined through the EIS process.”

A similar request in the form of a resolution was put before Harris County Commissioners Court by County Attorney Vince Ryan this morning. The resolution was unfortunately tabled, but will hopefully be reconsidered and passed at the Commissioners Court agenda in two weeks.

Last month Texas environmentalists respectfully urged the Mayor and City Council in a Houston Chronicle editorial to help persuade the Corps to call for an EIS “as decisions made today could have a profound impact on lives tomorrow.” We truly appreciate Mayor Parker’s thoughtful attention to this matter, and sincerely hope that the Corps now heeds the collective call for a White Stallion Environmental Impact Statement.

–Posted by Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club

TCEQ goes one step forward, two steps back on air emissions from frackin’

Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality finally approved new air emission regulations on permit-by-rules and standard permits for oil and gas facilities. That’s good news because the rules will mean new facilities will need to actually assess their air emissions, do some monitoring and follow best management practices and get this — even HAVE to register their information with our regulatory authority. Again, the new rules are much better than existing law, which is basically nonexistent on air emissions.

But here’s the bad news — after receiving untold pressure from the industry, they not only carved out an exemption for “Smaller” facilities, they decided to only apply the new rules in the Barnett-Shale, larger Dallas – Fort Worth area. While the Barnett-Shale in  Texas is where development is still growing — and the area where air emissions have already impacted both the health of people but also impacted the area’s ability to come into compliance with ozone standards — it is not the only place where air emissions are important.

So the rest of the state – South Texas’s Eagleford shale play, North Texas’s Woodford Shale Play, etc — gets nothing for now. TCEQ Commissioners did instruct staff to begin working on a new rule package for the rest of the state..soon.

Keep in mind that the rest of the state is developing rapidly. According to Texas Monthly Oil and Gas Statistics, the top ten gas counties include not only some West and Dallas-area counties like Tarrant, Denton and Freestone, but also south Texas counties like Zapata and Webb.. But apparently those people are not yet important enough to protect with the new rules…

Here’s an article in Fort Worth on the new rules adopted by the TCEQ

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club