Hays County officials, along with other governments in the region, are considering a statement in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed stricter air quality standards, but seeking wiggle room to come into compliance.
In January, the agency advised it will cut permitted levels of ground-level ozone and other pollutants by as much as 20 percent, from 75 parts per billion in current rules to 60-70 parts per billion. The state of Texas has already filed suit against the EPA, arguing the proposed standards are based on inadequate science. The EPA contends current acceptable levels still pose threats to health, safety and the environment.
Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio have been out of compliance with ambient air quality standards for years, a status called “non-attainment” that brings with it mandates such as vehicle emission testing and tighter controls on industry and utilities. The Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area meets the looser, existing standard but would exceed allowable levels under the EPA’s proposal.
Hays County would support a standard of 70 parts per billion, at the upper end of the proposed range, under a draft statement prepared by Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, who represents the county on the Capitol Area Council of Government’s Clean Air Coalition. Ford submitted the draft in Commissioners Court on Tuesday and said she would seek to schedule a vote on the statement next week.
The draft argues that non-point source emissions – meaning the pollution that is generated outside the region and therefore outside affected counties’ control – contributes to Central Texas ozone levels and “lays the groundwork to not be considered for non-attainment,” Ford said.
“While this MSA has worked hard and cooperatively to meet the current federal air quality standard, we recognize part of the problem is not generated here… This situation will make it unlikely that the MSA will be able to demonstrate attainment of a more stringent standard without additional controls or consideration given to transported emissions,” the draft states.
To account for this, the EPA should set a realistic timeline for implementing the new standard; integrate downwind ozone rules into federal and state permitting standards for industry and require cleaner-running car engines and cleaner-burning gasoline and diesel, the draft states.
In addition, Ford’s draft asks the EPA to take each county’s population into account when enforcing the new rules. With an estimated 2008 population of 149,476, Hays County is considerably smaller than Travis and Williamson counties which have 998,543 and 394,193 residents, respectively.
“A non-attainment designation for the smaller counties would not be only costly but would be a serious impedance to timely infrastructure development, job creation, economic health and prospects for future growth,” the draft states.
During discussion of the draft in court on Tuesday, County Judge Elizabeth Sumter asked Ford if the EPA has the flexibility to require compliance short of non-attainment status.
“My guess is,” Ford said, “the EPA can do whatever it wants to.”