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Ozone season begins with warning

Thursday, April 2, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Last year, EPA toughened the federal ozone standard, and now, at the start of ozone season, leaders of the Central Texas Clean Air Force are making an urgent plea for city leaders and individuals to keep Austin from violating the new standard.


“We’ve already been preliminarily designated as non-attainment by the EPA,” said Jim Marston with the Environmental Defense Fund during a Wednesday news conference at City Hall. “What we’re trying to do is focus our effort on a few things that can move the needle by a couple of parts-per-billion…enough to get us on the good side of the health standard.”

The Clean Air Force, with help from Travis County, has been working on a new public-awareness campaign dubbed “The Big Push”. The goal will be to remind drivers to reduce idling and reduce or eliminate trips on ozone action days by taking the bus, carpooling, or telecommuting. “Air quality measurements from this ozone season will determine if we pass or fail the federal test,” said Clean Air Force Director Deanna Altenhoff. “We only have seven months to meet the new standard. It’s going to take an unprecedented effort to achieve this.”


The Austin City Council will vote on a resolution today directing the City Manager to have the city officially join the campaign. “This is our make or break year,” said Mayor Will Wynn. He noted that the city is already using telecommuting, hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles, and rules that prohibit idling to reduce their own contribution to the ozone problem. “As a major employer, the City of Austin is taking bold steps. We’re not asking anybody to do things that we don’t think we’re already doing ourselves.”


The City of Austin has led the effort during the past few years to keep the region in compliance with federal clean air standards, along with strong support from the business community. “High ozone levels and lots of smog is bad for business,” said Steve Taylor with Applied Materials. “It threatens to increase our regulatory costs, it threatens our employees’ health, it results in higher health care costs. It just makes Austin a less-great place to work and live.”


Other major cities that have been declared to be in violation of the federal standard have had to implement measures dictated by the federal government in order to improve air quality. Austin has been able to avoid federal controls so far through the adoption of the Early Action Compact, which outlined a series of voluntary steps to reduce the production of the chemicals that combine to form ozone.


Moving away from that voluntary system to one of federal control, Mayor Will Wynn warned, could hurt the region’s efforts to attract new jobs. “When you’re in non-compliance, you essentially have to offset any additional emissions that might be created by new employment with some other program,” he said. “That makes it more challenging for major employers to expand; it makes it far more challenging for us to attract additional employers to the region. There’s clearly a stigma . . . You don’t want to be a non-attainment city.”

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