Desperately Seeking Action on DFW Smog
January 25, 2016
Back in the '90s, I remember my parents saying that it was less expensive to inspect their cars in Plano, in Collin County, than a few miles further south in Dallas County - because of the additional emissions inspections required in the latter. I never would have imagined that 20 years later, ten DFW counties are now in non-attainment for smog-producing ozone pollution - and we still have no plan to solve the problem.
Just looking at the smog, we all know it can't be good for any of us. The American Lung Association has a good article on the health effects of ozone pollution. Moreover, studies have shown that air pollution in general has a disproportionate impact on Latino and African-American communities.
Last week, I attended my first public hearing of any kind: an opportunity for the general public to speak to representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) about their current plan for bringing DFW's ozone levels down to the levels set by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. In short, they don't have a plan for meeting the current goal. In October, news came out about new EPA standards that will tighten the restrictions even further. The existing TCEQ plan calls for no new action, suggesting that efficiency gains from vehicles are sufficient to bring ozone down "close enough" to the EPA mandated level.
There were between 50 and 70 people in the room, many of whom signed up to speak. Every single speaker whom I heard in over two hours of testimony spoke out for a better plan, many of them specifically appealing to the EPA (who had several representatives in attendance) to take over the planning process. In over 20 years, TCEQ has not managed to put together a meaningful plan, and the EPA has the right to impose sanctions and dictate a plan.
After so many years, the testimony was impassioned, and diverse. Parents and grandparents spoke about their kids', and their own, struggles with asthma. Particularly moving were the stories of children whose asthma attacks often keep them out of school or leave them too tired to function well when they do attend. Older community members talked about the literal daily struggle to breathe. The injustice of a high concentration of cement processing plants on West Dallas, an area which is 80% Latino and/or African American, was strongly called out.
Some activists, fed up with years of inaction, were quite strong - even vulgar - in their language. Personally, I was not pleased to hear that tactic. I can't see what good it will do. But who am I to judge, when I haven't been on the front line of the clean air fight for decades?
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