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Victoria could face sanctions, limits on growth with new ozone standard

By JJ VELASQUEZ
June 22, 2010 at 1:22 a.m.


Aug. 31 - The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a new ozone standard in the range of 60 parts per billion and 70 parts per billion.

January - The Texas Commission Environmental Quality will recommend the new non-attainment areas to the federal agency.

August 2011 - Based on the state's recommendations, the EPA will enforce regulations on the newly designated areas.

Victoria could face federal sanctions and limits on economic growth beginning in 2011 if it falls out of attainment for the ozone standard.

Officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality held a public hearing in Victoria on Tuesday to seek public comment from community members on how to enforce the new standard and abate ozone emissions. Fifteen people from Victoria and surrounding areas attended the meeting, Marie Lester, with the city's environmental services department, said.

Depending on where the boundary lines are drawn, nearby residents could see the effects of ozone violations in Victoria.

"They would look at the population in Edna, Bay City," she said. "They may get swept into this non-attainment area."

In January, the EPA announced a new ozone standard proposal in the range of 60 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. The current standard is 75 parts per billion.

According to 2009 numbers, ozone in Victoria is at 65 parts per billion.

The new standard, which will be set in August, could pull Victoria out of attainment. It has teetered on the brink of violating the standard for the last 15 years.

One monitor of ozone emissions in Victoria County operates 24 hours a day.

The city is installing more monitors for air quality, one in Inez and one in Fannin. Lester said the new monitors will allow environmental services to detect what pollutants migrate into and out of Victoria County.

"We want to see what the air looks like when it gets here and what it looks like when it leaves," she said.

This would tell the city about the sources of pollution - if air pollutants are being produced here or elsewhere.

Transport is a major reason Victoria faces the possibility of ozone non-attainment.

Most of Victoria's ozone problems come from the northeast, ranging from the industrial areas of Houston and Galveston, to Louisiana to the Ohio River Valley.

Area chemical plants are not significant contributors to the ozone problem.

So Victoria could fall out of attainment through no fault of its own.

The results of that could be costly for local industrial plants, said Lester.

"That would mean they would need to spend more money to change their operations," she said. "It could be pretty expensive to put all those new control measures on your equipment."

Local businesses, such as gas stations, could also face government sanctions.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires a plant to abate ozone emissions from each area that monitors them.

The city has had its plan in place and is looking at proposed actions in it to determine how effective they are going to be, Lester said.

Measures the city has already taken to reduce ozone include the Blue Sky initiative, in which parents who pick up their children from school are advised not to idle in their vehicles to avoid needless air pollution. At gas stations, customers are advised to stop pumping at the click. And the city soon hopes to harvest methane gas from its landfill rather than flare it off into the atmosphere, which could further cut harmful emissions.

David Brymer, air quality division director for the state agency, said air quality in Texas is improving as federal limits on ozone decrease.

"Air quality is getting better as ozone is getting lower," Brymer said. "But, at the same time, the standard is being lowered, so that's why we're having these hearings."

The state agency holds its next public hearing in Corpus Christi on Wednesday. The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. in the TCEQ regional office at 6300 Ocean Drive.

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