Houston Mayor Challenges EPA Policy

Mayor Bill White says right now the Environmental Protection Agency uses a system of formulas and estimates to measure toxic emissions. Instead, he says they should use direct observations to make the measurements.

"We know based on scientific studies - some of those studies that were done by contract with E.P.A, other analysis done by E.P.A investigators themselves - that there are more of these chemicals that can be detected by direct observations than would be used with the estimating procedures that the companies now employ."

Right now, refineries submit estimates of their emissions. The formal petition calls for the use of infrared or other available technology to directly measure actual emissions. The petition cites a study, conducted by Environment Canada, in which emissions from one refinery were documented to be 100 times higher than the official estimates.

"A lot of people have a stereotype of Houston, Texas as being a place where there are tumbleweeds in the streets and most the economy is oil and gas and we are less conscious, or aware of our environment than other places - Well, we don't have tumbleweeds, and Houstonians are as concerned about their lungs as anybody else in this country."

White says he prefers to keep this issue at the regional level, but in his words has come up against a bit of a stonewall.

"I have individually asked members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to put an emphasis on direct observation measurements of certain pollutants that could be made public and put on the web, but that has not been done."

The mayor says he's also asked the industry to voluntarily implement direct observation and release those measurements to the public.

"I hope that direct observation shows that there are less of these chemicals in the air than the estimates. That's what I hope, but unfortunately there is a risk that that's not the caseξ. and truth has to be our friend."

White says he believes the city's petition will be well received by E.P.A officials. And he says if they reject the idea, the city will explore legal options.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
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