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Travis County comments on proposed EPA air standards

Friday, March 12, 2010 by Jacob Cottingham

Over the last few weeks, Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources staff have been working on the county’s official comment letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s strengthened ambient air quality standards, which were announced earlier this year. On Tuesday, Travis County Commissioners voted unanimously to send out a revised letter to the EPA putting Travis County’s position on the record.


While the county supports the reduction from 75 parts-per-billion to more healthful levels – estimated to be between 60 and 70 ppb – it is also concerned about achievable, scalable targets. Commissioner Pct. 2 Sarah Eckhardt praised staff for “making the distinction between our support of a lower standard that is sufficiently protective of human health and constructive suggestions about how to implement it so that . . . we don’t hang the meat so high that the dog won’t jump.”


Travis County recommended a target of 70 ppb. Tom Webber and John White headed up the recommendations and sought to call attention to pollution sources outside the county that drift across borders. The letter mentions scientific studies done by Baylor University and the University of Texas that focus on the weather patterns that sometimes give Travis County 80-85 percent of the standard just by what blows in. Related to this was the county’s recommendation that the EPA enable them to measure the seventh highest ozone measurements, rather than the fourth highest in deciding the overall attainment level. White and Webber said such a measurement adjustment would make up for the ozone that blows into the county.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry released his own statement in January about the proposed ozone targets. “The EPA’s only consistent target has been the target on the backs of Texas workers and taxpayers…. From cap and tax legislation to regulating CO2 (carbon dioxide) to moving ozone targets, the Obama administration seems intent upon following flawed science down a road that will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs, while doing nothing more to protect human health.”


They also recommended a plan for phasing into attainment status should the EPA decide on a standard more stringent than 70ppb. Areas deemed to be in non-attainment are subject to loss of critical transportation finance resources from the federal government.


Last week, when discussing the revisions White told commissioners the EPA must pursue more stringent vehicle and emission standards in order to significantly reduce ozone. He said nationally, engines and fuels are becoming cleaner and making up a bulk of the improvements. Although measures Travis County has taken have had a significant impact, the “big ticket item has been the improvement of the vehicle fleet from federal standards.”


Commissioners voted unanimously to send the recommendations forward. The EPA is expected to make a final decision in August.

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