EPA readies tough new smog standards for North Texas




Posted on March 17, 2010 at 8:54 AM

ARLINGTON — You don't have to be a scientist to know that smog can hurt your health. But now the federal government is just one step away from forcing our region to change how it does business to clear the air.

So why doesn't everyone think this a good idea?

The Environmental Protection Agency listened to a packed room of speakers Tuesday during a hearing at Arlington City Hall. It was one of the final opportunities for citizens to address the EPA about proposed changes to the ozone standard, the stuff that smog's made of.

If the agency gets its way, the natural gas industry would be among local industries and individuals feeling the pinch.

Carla Steele's three children live on their ranch in Navarro County. She wants them to play in the fresh air in sunshine.

But sometimes, on summer days, the healthier air is inside.

"The kids can go outside for five minutes and they're back in the house," Steele said. "They can't breathe, they're hot, they're tired. And they're sick a lot — whether it be allergies, bronchitis, you name it — they're sick."

Steele believes the cause is a nearby coal-fired power plant, emitting chemicals that eventually form ozone, which we recognize as smog.

The smog and the haze is so thick you can literally feel like you're walking through it," she said.

But power plants are just one of several industries that could be heavily impacted by new EPA rules.

"That includes oil and gas industry, utilities, cement kilns and other industry, cars and trucks," explained EPA Region 6 Administrator Dr. Al Armendariz.

The natural gas industry may be among the most impacted by a stricter ozone standard. Dr. Armendariz says condensate tanks and compressor engines can be significant sources of ozone-forming chemicals.

"The oil and gas industry is going to be expected to participate in the solution to the ozone problem in a way moving forward that they weren't participating in the past," he said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality opposes the proposed regulation change.

TCEQ's chief toxicologist says the standard is costly and unobtainable, and that the supporting science assumes people are outside much more than they actually are.

The EPA will publish its new ozone standard on August 31. Deadlines for attainment could fall anywhere from the year 2014 to 2031, depending on how severe the federal government views the existing problem.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com