San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 27th, 2009
County joins 'Big Push' to improve air quality

STAFF REPORT

The Hays County Commissioners Court passed a resolution supporting “The Big Push,” a regional initiative that builds on voluntary efforts already in place to help meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ambient air guidelines.

Additionally, the county has joined the Clean Air Force of Central Texas (CAFCT) as a clean air partner.

Air quality monitors, administered by the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), show that Hays County remains within EPA guidelines. However, increasing population growth and expected economic development could lower air quality in the future.

The potential also exists for the EPA to group Hays County with nearby counties, and cite the regional group for “non-attainment” of air quality standards if only one county in the group falls out of compliance.

“We certainly have reason to be concerned, and to take steps now, to voluntarily reduce emissions that cause ground-level ozone,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), who represents Hays County on the CAFCT board of directors.

“While our county government already uses low-emission roadway stripping material, low sulfur diesel for our vehicles and requires regular maintenance for our vehicles, we’ll be looking at other ways we can reduce emissions throughout our workplace,” Ford continued. “We’re putting together a plan to provide information that will help our employees make informed decisions in their personal lives, as well as within the county offices. We’ll also be surveying employees to determine if a ride-sharing program is a viable option.”

Ford pointed out that high ground-level ozone will have both health and economic impacts on a community. Issues range from throat and lung irritation and aggravation of asthma, to withholding of federal transportation funding if the state fails to produce an acceptable air-quality plane for a non-attainment area.

High ozone areas, according to Ford, tend to see increased health care costs and school absences, as well as damage to sensitive vegetation and trees. In non-attainment areas, restrictions could be placed on new development and businesses, and the public could see increased costs for funding emission controls. These costs could come in the form of enhanced vehicle inspections that are already in plaice in some parts of Texas.

Once the county completes the application for admission to the program, the county’s baseline for emissions will be calculated, which will establish the yardstick for determining the county’s success in meeting clean air goals. The county also plans to work with businesses and other governments to encourage voluntary clean air efforts.

For more information about CAFCT, visit its website.

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