Houston Ozone Standard Improving

Houston's ozone standard is significantly better than it was just three years ago, but the state's top environmental official says the region still has a staggering task ahead to meet federal ozone standards. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Since the 1960s, the federal air quality standards and the deadlines to meet those standards have been changing. They changed again last year and right now, the Houston-Galveston region is under the gun to bring ozone levels down to federal eight-hour standards by the year 2010. The current ozone level is 97 parts per billion. The legal limit is 85 parts per billion. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chair Kathleen Hartnett White says the new eight-hour standard is a much more difficult and stringent standard to meet.

"The attainment date is 2010 but that means controls must be in place in 2009. The state will adopt the plan and the controls that will aim at that date next summer, working on them right now, a tremendous challenge."

The TCEQ conducted models to see what reductions would be required to meet the new standard. One model they ran showed that even eliminating the Houston Ship Channel would not result in attainment. White says the petro-chemical industry accounts for 34 percent of total ozone emissions, and 56 percent comes from mobil sources.

"There's good news here because finally, the federal controls on mobil sources are on the horizon. New engine standards, fuel to some extent, but predominantly new engine standards. And we have modeled what that will mean for this area and it's major."

While mobil reductions will go a long way in helping the region reach attainment, the reductions won't be in place in time for the 2010 deadline. So White says the state plans to offer what she calls a novel plan: to be brutally honest with the EPA about the state's inability to comply within the designated time frame.

"I intend to submit all the controls that are practically feasible by 2010, all that can be done as fast as possible that is feasible. There are ways for us to do this and I think it's the best foot forward, we do as much as we possibly can but we really draw stark attention to the fact that we must have mobil source reductions and not merely industrial reductions for this state to reach the ozone standard."

White calls this one of the greatest challenges for Houston's environment and economy and says attainment is still significantly distant, but not impossible. White made her remarks to industry and business members of the Greater Houston Partnership. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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