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Airing it Out in Texas

Since 1994, air quality in Texas has decreased significantly. What follows is a three part-story on Texas's air pollution and the contributing role played by the Bush Administration.

Part 1. Air Quality and Kids

Outlines the severity of the problem. Briefly overviews the "grandfathering" exemption for polluting industries in Texas. Looks at the effect on the health of Texas' most vulnerable victims - children.

Part 2: The Bush Environmental Agenda in Action: Protecting Grandfathered Air Polluters

Reveals how Texas' declining air quality resulted from the Bush administration's strategy to weaken environmental regulations that benefit polluting industries.

Part 3. Polluters Bet Big on Bush

... many contributed to his political campaign fund.

Overview

In the five years since 1994, Texas has assumed the dubious status of discharging more chemicals causing ozone than any state in the union. Air quality problems have quietly reached crisis proportions in Texas, with every major urban area in non-attainment or near non-attainment. According to the EPA, in 1999 65% of Texans (12 million children, women, and men), now breath air not meeting Federal minimum standards (1).

It is hard to believe, but the Houston area this year has experienced more severe smog problems than Los Angles, recording eight of the ten highest ozone (smog) pollution peaks in the country. The EPA recently downgraded Dallas-area air quality to "serious non-attainment." State and local officials have pushed back EPA compliance deadlines, requested waivers on cutting back ozone emissions, and delayed in submitting an air pollution clean up plan for the Dallas area. Both the Central Texas Austin/San Antonio area and East Texas Longview-Tyler-Marshall areas will have fallen to "non-attainment" of federal clean air standards by the end of this year (2).

As the air has become increasingly polluted, and while state officials and polluting industries continued to try to circumvent the Clean Air Act regulations, the Bush Administration has actively worked to obstruct enforcement of the Clean Air laws 3.

After five years in office, Gov. Bush has still offered no substantive plan for dealing with the growing air pollution crisis. All Texans suffer if they breathe bad air, but the impact on kids is especially severe.

The Story of Grandfathered Polluting Industry in Texas

When the Texas Legislature passed the state's Clean Air Act in 1971, the law included a major loophole that exempted any facility already under construction or operating. The exemption allowed these plants to operate without using the best available pollution control technology. Furthermore, these facilities were not required to conduct public hearings on the impacts of their pollution on the health of the people in surrounding neighborhoods. In theory, these "grandfathered" plants would have to apply for permits, if they chose to expand or significantly change their operations.

Because of ineffective regulatory oversight, changes in operations have rarely been identified and, consequently, few polluters have had their grandfathered status revoked. In 1997, Gov. Bush actually expanded this loophole by signing HB 3019, a law which allowed grandfathered industrial plants to change their facilities and processes without getting a new permit which would subject them to regulations and public scrutiny.

By 1999, Texas environmental data showed that the "grandfathered facilities" loophole allowed 36% of all Texas' industrial pollution to escape government regulation. Put in perspective, these grandfathered facilities emit as much ozone pollution-causing chemicals as 18 million automobiles 4, and significantly contribute to air quality problems in the state's non-attainment areas.

Next Week Part Two: The Bush Environmental Agenda in Action: Protecting Grandfathered Air Polluters

Reveals how Texas' declining air quality resulted from Bush administration's strategy to weaken environmental regulations and, thereby, benefit polluting industries.

Part Three: Polluters bet big on Bush

Sources:

  1. Texas State Data Center, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Committee
  2. Four Highest Eight-Hour Ozone Concentrations in 1999 TNRCC web site
  3. Actions include legislation such as HB3019, directing his appointees to the TNRCC to challenge new EPA standards that were designed to protect children's health, and delaying filing of plans to clean up Texas' most polluted cities.
  4. "How the Grandfather Loophole Threatens Texas School Children" 2nd Edition, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, 1999

Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

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