Health & Science

With Lower Standards on the Way, Houston Faces Clean Air Challenge

The EPA came to Houston Tuesday to hold one of three national hearings on ozone Pollution. They’re discussing whether to create a new, lower standard that could be a huge challenge for cities like Houston. Carrie Feibel was there.

“Clean Air Texas! Clean Air Texas…”

Environmental activists filled the hallway outside the hearing. They urged the federal government to adopt the lower limit and said the technology exists to do it. Inside, the mood was more somber, as dozens of people came forward to talk about toxic air currents, asthma fatalities, and whether Houston’s industry can handle more regulation.

“Those of us who live here know that sometimes you can cut the smog with a knife. Sometimes it burns the back of the throat when you go outside in the morning.”

That was Karen Derr, a realtor who recently ran for city council. She supports the tighter curb on ozone.

The lower limit will do the most to protect our health especially for people suffering from illnesses like asthma who live on the city’s east and southeast sides. I sell residential real estate for a living. I see the effect poor air quality has on our economy here in Houston.”

But Debbie Hastings with the Texas Oil and Gas Association says the new proposal could hurt the state’s economy.

“Our industry is a cornerstone to the state’s economy. Constantly changing standards issued by the EPA create uncertainties that impact oil and gas investment, economic expansions and ultimately jobs.”

Many advocates, and the EPA’s own hearing officer, point out that by law, the government cannot consider economic costs when setting the new ozone limit. The standard must simply reflect the damage that ozone does to human lives.

Here’s Wendi Hammond of Kids for Clean Air:

“One mother told me, she said the worst day of her life was when she was rushing to the emergency room with her son in the back seat gasping for air and wondering, and asking his mother ‘am I going to die?’ These are real issues, real health issues that affect our kids, affect our parents, affect our grandparents. This is a step in the right direction.”

Mayor Annise Parker was at the hearing and says she supports the move to lower the legal ozone limit. The EPA is considering a new standard between 60 and 70 parts per billion, down from the current 75.

“There is no doubt it would be a significant challenge for Houston to meet the lower standard, so the amount of lead time and our ability to achieve regional coordination is significant to us, but we do want to be on the record in supporting a goal that is protective of our citizens and is based on real science.”

Jenifer Wilde, a UT graduate, decided on a different approach.

I like what you’re trying to do
Polluters comin in and making me so blue
Breathing clean air it’s what I really like
If someone makes it dirty
I’m putting up a fight
Big coal plants, all up in my grill
Shuttin’ them down, gives me such a thrill
The air that we breathe
It affects us all
So come on everybody
Get on the ball
60 parts per billion is where we want to be
Living in America healthy and free

 Wilde said she hopes her eco-rap will help younger people get more engaged. The EPA plans to announce the new ozone standard by the end of August.

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