City to lose $350K for clean air

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

June 15, 2017 at 10 p.m.
Updated June 16, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Darryl Lesak

Darryl Lesak   contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

Gov. Greg Abbott has decided to cut state funding for air quality programs - something that could leave the city of Victoria short about $350,000 over the next two years.

For years, Victoria has received state money to test air pollution and educate the public about how to combat it, said Darryl Lesak, director of environmental services for the city. But this year, the governor decided to cut $6 million from air quality programs, which lawmakers had earmarked for several cities across the state.

"It's really important to us that we have this program," said Lesak. "(Air quality) affects everybody, and we take this very seriously."

The governor's office didn't return calls for comment Thursday. Abbott said in a statement that he cut the money from cities that are complying with clean-air standards so it could instead be used in problem areas. Abbott said it would allow the state to be "better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency."

But city staff say the educational and testing programs are critical to keeping air clean. In the early 1990s, Victoria was found to have ozone levels above federal limits, which is why the city started receiving state funding.

Victoria was required to curb pollution levels to be in compliance with standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA, pollution from ozone can cause breathing problems - particularly for children and seniors.

In the past couple of decades, Victoria has lowered air pollution levels below federal limits - largely because of city programs to boost air quality, said Lesak.

Lesak said the city found out about the cuts in state funding this week. City staff members are working to find another way to pay for the program, which includes educational campaigns to reduce idling cars as well as hiring scientists to test pollution levels, he said.

"We're working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to try and see what we can do going forward and what the future of this program is going to look like," he said.



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