New ozone standards could be harmful

By the Advocate Editorial Board
June 29, 2010 at 1:29 a.m.

New proposed ozone standards that would go into effect in August seem to be arbitrary and not based on any latest science.

Someone in the Environmental Protection Agency seems to have decided to choose some new standard on a whim, saying it is primarily for the safety of children.

We think it probably is, but as Victoria director of environmental services Jerry James said, "Is it something that is actually beneficial to human health and welfare as opposed to where we are now? Yes, you always want to be better - can't argue with that, but you have to look at other costs to balance that."

The EPA's website has this: "The proposed revisions are based on scientific evidence about ozone and its effects on people and sensitive trees and plants." That same scientific evidence was used in previous lowering of the standards.

Ground-level ozone is pollution and a chemical reaction among nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds in heat and sunlight.

James also asked, "Is it something that's actually attainable? The EPA may lower the standard to a level for Victoria that is not attainable because Victoria has no control over much of the ground-level ozone pollution.

While we want and enjoy clean air, these ozone standards are frustrating because much of the pollution Victoria gets comes from somewhere else. Yet we have to pay the price for it.

The situation is not fair by any standard.

"Who knows how the EPA comes up with anything? We had a problem when it was dropped to 85 parts per billion," said former Victoria County Judge Helen Walker, who worked a good three years in the early 1990s to get Victoria County out from non-attainment status. "Currently, we are 66 parts per billion; Victoria has done a great job to control it."

On the other hand, the EPA says a city is responsible for its air, no matter where it comes from.

If the EPA lowers the ozone standard to 60 parts per billion ground-level ozone - it plans to lower somewhere between 60 to 70 parts per billion - Victoria County will likely enter non-attainment status again.

James said the EPA will give non-attainment cities and counties a couple of years before real hardships are levied.

Walker said it was 1976-77 when the EPA listed Victoria as a city and county with non-attainment status.

When she became county judge, she worked to get out from under of that status and its hardships.

"In 1994, we were successful in coming out of non-attainment," she said.

What does it mean to be in non-attainment?

Non-attainment status means the county and city would have great difficulty bringing in new industry. A trade-off - where you would have to stop something already causing ozone in the air - would have to occur. In bigger cities, such as Houston, crushing 5,000 old cars thereby eliminating emissions that react with heat in the atmosphere might be a trade-off to bring in a new industry.

Victoria has ozone-causing cows and deciduous trees and would have to cut down the trees or get rid of the cows for a trade-off - not reasonable by our standards.

All fuel pumps would have to be changed out for a different formula of fuel. This would increase the cost of fuel in the county, and this would be an immediate requirement of non-attainment cities/counties.

Watering would be limited to mornings and evenings.

Mowing and use of two-cycle engines would be limited to mornings and evenings.

Idling at a red light or in parking lots would be discouraged.

Carpooling would be encouraged.

Stopping at the click at the pump when filling up would prevent gases from escaping into the air.

Loss of highway funds. Walker said before Victoria County climbed out of non-attainment, it was only two months from losing $12 million in highway funds.

"It's hard to realize it's been 15 years since we got out of it," Walker said. "And the city has been actively working with businesses to keep it in check. But if they drop it to 65 parts per billion, they will have a hell of a time staying under that."

Walker said in rural areas, it's hard to have a trade-off.

"In terms of economic development, it's a disaster for a rural area that has no trade-offs," she said.

We agree, and the agencies setting these standards should take these points under consideration before setting unattainable standards.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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