Is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality an Honest Broker for San Antonio’s Air Quality?

BY ON November 5, 2015

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This was written Krystal Henagan, Moms Clean Air Force Texas Field Organizer:

Facing climbing ozone levels and non-attainment, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deployed their top officials to host an “Air Quality” open house in the Alamo City, Texas, Monday. As a mother of an asthmatic son, I was looking forward to hearing the agency’s plans to improve our region’s poor air quality not only for him, but for the thousands of San Antonio children suffering from dirty air.

Those of us expecting a comprehensive overview of how the state agency was planning to work with local and federal agencies to provide regional solutions to clean up our air, were deeply disappointed. The open house was rather a very bizarre orchestration of an oil and gas industry PR blitz held by TCEQ’s commissioners and toxicologist.

Dog and Pony Show

Strangely, the agency tasked with protecting the health and safety of Texas children and families spent a majority of the half-day event explaining two things: How emissions from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale are NOT impacting San Antonio’s smog levels, along with the agency’s controversial view that ozone is really not all that harmful.

If I didn’t know any better, the agency’s cherry-picked presentations ,and Chairman Shaw’s reassuring nods following any mention of our state’s oil and gas economy, would have had me convinced that we are on the right track to cleaner air, even if the state took a do-nothing approach. After all, TCEQ did not allow questions from the audience during the public presentation.

Some in Monday’s audience were the same analysts whose research has indicated otherwise — that oil and gas operations in the Eagle Ford Shale are impacting San Antonio’s ozone levels. Photochemical modeling performed by the Alamo Area Council of Governments and University of Texas showed Eagle Ford Shale impacts to San Antonio’s air quality were simply ignored.

And while there is no doubt our city’s poor air quality has many polluting sources – cars, power plants, cement plants, quarries, large trucks — there is strong evidence indicating that Eagle Ford Shale emissions are also part of the problem.

The lack of acknowledgement of this evidence – or explanation of why the agency may disagree with this evidence – raises the question of whether we can expect TCEQ to be a constructive, honest broker as the city and region look for ways to clean up our city’s dirty air.

Don’t Worry, Do Nothing

TCEQ’s Dr. Honeycutt told Monday’s audience “there’s no association between asthma, ozone, and missed school days.”

Let’s take a further look at what science actually says:

First, San Antonio is competing for some of the highest smog levels in Texas. Health scientists are beyond the point of questioning whether or not smog aggravates asthma: mounting evidence shows this association and that asthma is the leading cause of missed school days.

Secondly, the infamous TCEQ toxicologist, Dr. Michael Honeycutt’s, viewpoint on smog is outside the consensus view of mainstream science. His claim that EPA determined the tighter smog standard based on one or two studies is flat out wrong. The agency and its scientific review panel reviewed thousands of studies before laying out its recommendations on the national smog standard.

Many of our nation’s leading health organizations — including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Thoracic Society — were openly disappointed at the weak standard settled upon by EPA. That’s because the science points to adverse health effects on vulnerable populations, including children with asthma, at even lower levels than the updated EPA standard.

And yet, at the direction of TCEQ, Dr. Honeycutt has spent months – and millions of taxpayer dollars — promoting the position that smog levels in cities across Texas do not harm human health. Much like the agency’s view that humans aren’t impacting climate change, the agency is once again embarrassing itself (and our state) with its position on smog.

End of TCEQ’s Discussion…not San Antonio’s…

It’s truly unfortunate that TCEQ’s “Air Quality” open house was more of an industry PR operation than an open dialogue with city leaders and the community on how we can all work together to protect the health and safety of San Antonio families. From what they presented, it seems as if they’ve already made up their minds and that’s the end of their discussion. However, here in San Antonio, solutions lay on our horizon. There is hope that area leadership will dig deeper to see where science can find solutions for cleaner air.

Our city has a tough task ahead and the solutions to our air quality problem will involve emission reductions from all sources contributing to smog. As parents, we need a state partner who isn’t afraid to look at all sources to ensure that our families and communities remain safe. Unfortunately, as city leaders and citizens figure out the best plan for reducing area emissions to clean up the air we breathe, we have reason to worry about what kind of honest broker and partner TCEQ will be.

While San Antonio is expected to become one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, the time is now for area leadership to get a plan on track and implement comprehensive smog reduction strategies. Stakes are high: our children, families, community, and future need protection from dirty air now.

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TOPICS: Air Pollution, Asthma, Ozone, Texas