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Bay City residents thank TCEQ official for keeping them in the clear

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Aug. 9, 2012 at 3:09 a.m.

Zak Covar

BAY CITY - A state official has been recognized by residents of Bay City for keeping the community in the clear with the Environmental Protection Agency last winter.

Last December, the EPA was due to issue the results on air quality from a 2008 study on ozone standards. Communities that didn't meet the requirements would be given non-attainment status by the federal agency and would be required to make changes to reduce emissions and improve its air quality.

Matagorda County officials were alarmed to learn that their county was slated to be given non-attainment designation because of emissions contributing to air quality problems, Mitch Thames, president of the Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, said.

"We knew it was bad. We knew it would cost a lot of money, but we didn't know the hundreds of millions of dollars it would have cost," Thames said, pausing to shake his head and exhale sharply. "I'm glad we didn't know that at the time."

Thames and other local officials approached the state environmental regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to see if those in the agency could intervene with the EPA. Working together, the local officials and members of TCEQ persuaded the EPA to consider the county's reduced population and a number of other factors, revising their findings, Thames said. EPA officials took the county off the non-attainment list, to the relief of those in the county.

On Wednesday, the Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture had Zak Covar, executive director of the TCEQ, as their speaker.

"One of the reasons you're here today is so we can say thank you, so much, for what you've done," Thames told Covar before the audience in the Bay City Civic Center.

The room was packed with people and the applause was enthusiastic as Covar stepped before the microphone.

"We came out to say thank you and to meet the person who helped get us out of the swirl," Barbara Sanders, a resident of Bay City, said.

Covar, who was confirmed as executive director in May, accepted the thanks on behalf of himself and his staff.

Thames presented him with two beach towels, printed with the words, "Matagorda County."

Covar said he appreciated the expression of gratitude, but noted that this was something he would do for any community who needed his help.

"We did this for every county that was facing non-attainment. It doesn't matter if they're big or small communities, or what county they're in. It's part of Texas and that's what we are here to represent," Covar said.

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