Energy & Environment

Better Air In Houston But Not Good Enough

More Texas counties are being added to a list of those that have levels of smog that can hurt people.

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State environmental regulators measured ozone pollution across Texas to figure which areas have levels that exceed new, tougher federal standards. The eight counties that comprise the Houston region never met the old standard so they're still in but no new counties were added.

Different story in Dallas: an additional county (Hood) was added to the Dallas region which has also been out of compliance for years.

But in addition, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has now added two new metro areas to the list of ozone offenders: El Paso and San Antonio. Failing to meet federal ozone standards can make it harder for new industries to move into an area that's been listed as "non-attainment" because they'd have to do more to reduce their pollution.

Chrissy Mann with the Sierra Club says while it's good to call attention to unhealthy levels of ozone, penalizing cities that are in violation may not necessarily encourage change. She points out that Dallas's air is polluted from coal-burning power plants in East Texas. And in San Antonio and Bexar County, they get pollution from all the industrial work underway in the oil fields of South Texas.

"You have the Eagle Ford shale area just outside Bexar County area that's certainly contributing to ozone issues," Mann told News 88.7.

For Houston residents, the big picture is not all bad.

"Air quality in the Houston region has improved over the past two decades due to federal health standards and state implementation," according to a letter to Texas regulators from the Environmental Defense Fund. "However, more than 6.5 million area residents are still breathing unhealthy air and local air quality has worsened recently."

The state's list of ozone-violating counties needs the governor's approval before it'll be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this fall. The EPA will then work with the state on a plan to reduce the pollution.

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