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EPA considers stricter air standards that would affect Victoria

By Sara Sneath
March 1, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated March 1, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.

Jesus "Jesse" Alvarez, 36, of Goliad, pumps gas at the Valero on Navarro Street. The Environmental Protection Agency released a preliminary report last month outlining reasons to strengthen the standards for air pollution. If the requirements become stricter, Victoria will be forced to take measures to reduce air pollution, such as requiring harder vehicle emissions testing. Alvarez said the possibility of changes "doesn't sound good at all."

An Environmental Protection Agency committee is contemplating stricter air pollution standards after reviewing new science on the health effects of smog.

And if the new rules are imposed, it would mean Victoria would no longer meet the national standard for outdoor air quality.

The EPA strengthened air pollution regulations in 2008, but new science suggests that the health effects of smog are far worse than previously suspected, especially among vulnerable groups of the population such as children, the elderly and people with asthma.

"The Clean Air Act requires that the standard be set to protect susceptible populations. Now, we have a boatload of additional evidence that strengthens the case for a stronger standard," said Debbie Shprentz, a consultant for the American Lung Association.

Shprentz said the American Lung Association has a role as an advocate for lung health and public health protection.

"We think it has to be safe for everyone to breathe," she said.

But stricter air quality standards would mean asking the community to take steps to reduce air pollution.

One such measure might be to require tougher emissions testing for vehicles, said Kate Garcia, the programs coordinator for Victoria Environmental Services. Garcia said most of the voluntary control measures the city would ask the community to take would fall to industry, but Victoria residents may see a change in price for vehicle emissions testing.

"The price would go up on those tests, and what if you don't pass those tests? You'd have to get your car fixed," Garcia said.

"I don't know if I pollute. I don't try to," said Aaron Holdeman, 23, of Victoria. "I think it's made up. You got people 100 years old, and they don't have breathing problems. What's the big deal?"

Depending on the price difference of stricter vehicle emissions testing, Stephanie Lopez, 26, of Victoria, said taking measures to reduce air pollution shouldn't be considered "a bad thing."

"If you're willing to pay so much for a car, why not pay a little more to help out?" Lopez said.

Assuming Victoria was designated as a non-attainment area - an area that does not meet federally mandated air quality standards - the state would work with the area to determine what programs or measures would be adequate to bring the area into compliance by a certain date, said EPA region 6 spokesman Joe Hubbard.

"If the area fails to meet the standard by their attainment date, the EPA would make a finding of failure to attain and reclassify the area to the next higher classification. This means more work for the state and more stringent requirements for the area," he said.

Victoria County was designated a non-attainment area in 1978 and was required to submit a state implementation plan, which outlined measures to be taken to bring the county back into compliance. By 1995, the county was designated a "near non-attainment area."

"We've got a plan if we were to fall out of attainment," Garcia said of the state implementation plan.

One of the steps in the plan is a voluntary program with industry to reschedule, revise or curtail activities during days when the weather conditions make those who are active outdoors - children, elderly people, asthmatics and people with lung disease - more susceptible to health problems associated with air pollution.

A change in air pollution standards would likely mean many larger Texas cities would be designated as non-attainment area, such as San Antonio, one of the few metropolitan areas in Texas to avoid non-attainment. But Shprentz said public health should come before anything else.

"You can't set the standards based on cost or who would go out of attainment," she said. "The standards have to be based solely on health."



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