The U.S. EPA is holding a hearing tomorrow in Arlington, Texas to get public comment on a proposed rule to reduce smog, or ozone, pollution. Below is my prepared testimony, which I’ll deliver around 930 AM.
Good morning. My name is Luke Metzger, and I am the director of Environment Texas, a statewide environmental advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces. I’m here today to urge the EPA to help protect Texans’ health by reducing the ozone pollution standard to 60ppb.
Cleaning up the air in Texas is a priority for Environment Texas, whose thousands of members and activists are threatened by ozone pollution. It’s also important to me personally as a dad. My son, Gus, will turn 9 this year, and as a dad, I want to do everything I can to make sure he’s able to play outside without harming his health.
Unfortunately, two of our biggest cities – Houston and Dallas – rank in the top 10 worst cities in the country for ozone. 21 of our 30 biggest counties got Fs in the American Lung Association’s State of The Air report. And my hometown of Austin routinely experiences levels of smog pollution that the current scientific consensus concludes is dangerous to the health of my son Gus and millions of other Texans.
Inhaling smog pollution is like getting a sunburn on your lungs and often results in immediate breathing trouble. Long term exposure to smog pollution is linked to chronic asthma and other respiratory and lung diseases, reproductive and developmental harm, and even premature death.
My son Gus spends a lot of time during summer vacation outdoors running, playing soccer and baseball, and just being a kid. But a study from my alma mater USC found that kids who live in smoggy cities and play strenuous sports are three times more likely to develop asthma than kids breathing cleaner air. It worries and it angers me that my son could develop a serious and chronic health condition just from playing outside.
Over half a million kids in Texas have asthma, which is the number one health issue that causes kids to miss school. On “ozone action days” kids with asthma are often forced to stay indoors to avoid aggravating their condition.
And its not just kids, the elderly and people with asthma who are affected. Add a smoggy day on top of the aggravation of ragweed and other allergens and you have a whole lot of miserable people. Healthy Texans shouldn’t be coughing and wheezing on their way to work because of poor air quality.
The Risk and Exposure Assessment estimates that a new standard of 60ppb would reduce kids like my son Gus’ risk of being exposed to detrimental pollutants by 95 to 100%, compared to the current standard. This new standard would be the most effective by far, as setting the standard to 65ppb would only lower the risk of exposure by 30-65%. A standard of 70ppb puts risk avoidance even lower to 15-35%.
It’s the 21st century; we should and can achieve a 60 ppb standard. I know, because we’ve made significant progress in reducing ozone pollution in the last decade, but we’ve only scratched the surface of our potential.
For example, Texas leads the nation in nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants. But cost-effective emissions controls like selective catalytic reduction technology for power plants and switching to Texas’ abundant renewable energy sources like wind and solar power can reduce this pollution. Texas is the national leader in wind power and has tremendous potential for solar.
Texas’ many refinery and chemical plants are also a major source of ozone precursors like VOCs. My organization, Environment Texas, together with the Sierra Club, have sued three such facilities. We’ve settled suits against the Shell refinery in Deer Park and ChevronPhillips chemical plant in Baytown and we’re currently in the middle of a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for violations of the Clean Air Act at its Baytown refinery. The evidence in the Exxon trial, and the results of our past litigation prove that refinery and chemical plant emissions can be reduced dramatically, but this ONLY happens when companies are forced to do so. The state of Texas has failed to make this happen, so we’re counting on EPA to do it.
Oil and gas drilling is also a major source of air pollution in Texas. A study by researchers at the University of North Texas found that while smog levels have dropped overall since the late 1990s, ozone levels near the 15,000 active oil and gas wells here in the DFW area have been increasing steadily and rising at a much higher rate than in areas without oil and gas activity. And a study by the Alamo Council of Governments found that fracking activity in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale is increasing ozone precursors and putting San Antonio at risk of nonattainment. This month, new EPA rules took effect which will reduce well-site VOC emissions by 95 percent, but the rules only apply to new gas wells and existing well sites will not be required to reduce pollution.
We can also do more to reduce pollution from mobile sources. Texas’ “Drive a clean machine,” program helps Texans repair or replace old cars which don’t pass emission standards. The program replaced or repaired 57,000 old cars, but another 58,000 vehicles were eligible and did not receive funding. When we register our cars, all of us contribute money to The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which provides grants to clean up dirty diesel trucks and equipment. It’s a great program, but the Legislature has chosen to leave unspent $878 million collected from taxpayers to clean the air. Spending this money already in our clean air bank account is another great way we can help achieve a 60 ppb standard.
According to EPA, a 60ppb standard would annually prevent approximately 1.8 million asthma attacks, 1.9 million missed school days and 6,400 premature deaths across the nation.
By cleaning up our coal plants, strengthening our clean air programs and doing more to expand wind and solar energy to reduce our need for polluting power plants altogether, we can give my son, and sons and daughters across Texas a better shot at a healthier future.
Executive Director, Environment Texas
As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.