Environmental activist Boix questions EPA change plans
ADVOCACY rather than scientific integrity could be fueling a federal government agency’s latest revisions to its industrial air-quality monitoring models, according to one of the county’s highly respected community-environment leaders.
José Boix of Texas City expressed doubt about the changes after reviewing new guidelines put forward by the environmental protection agency after they were announced last week.
Afterwards he said that, while they might seem innovative science to the mainstream resident, he is not so sure.
“Just because this is a seemingly and more sophisticated new modeling approach, it does not equate to better and more effective,” he said.
The EPA, which is calling for hear comments on the guideline changes until the end of October, says its new models will bring the regulations into compliance with the clean air act.
The agency wants to change calculations on its preferred near-field air dispersion regulatory model, called AERMOD. It is used at industrial sites and monitors air quality during events such as plume rises.
The agency said the new modeling addresses technical concerns from the public.
Boix, who organizes Texas City-La Marque Community Advisory Council, said: “A quick internet search regarding AERMOD shows documents that seem dated, with references to the years 1985 to 2007 and some in the 2010 range. I would have thought that, if such technology is hot and current, there would have been more recent publications.”
He said the recommended air-quality models don’t seem to have been vetted in the real world and that it is hard to determine how they compare with existing permit requirements.
“I could not easily find any industrial references to the work of these models – highly sophisticated elements, including complex mathematical manipulations – some of which seemed empirical,” he said.
“There seems to me a lack of large-scale field testing to establish a validated comparison of the old models with the new.”
Boix also said he is skeptical that the changes were designed to benefit the public at large and that the EPA could have reacted to political agendas. In 2012, the agency granted a petition after the Sierra Club requested stronger models for particulate-matter, or PM, pollutants and tougher requirements for air permits. The organization targeted ozone and fine-particle pollutants known as PM2.5 because they measure 2.5 microns, which is 100 times thinner than human hair.
The new guidelines also address emissions of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide and update the 2005 three-tiered approach in place now.
“As such, the proposed changes seem to have been solely triggered by an environmental activist group and it may seem that EPA may be trying to answer to them,” Boix said.
He said he would not be surprised if the EPA increases permit requirements in the future.
“The additional concern is that, while the proposal seems to be focusing on ozone and PM2.5, there seems to be implications to furthering the use of this guideline to other pollutants,” he said. “This may be a way to possibly ‘slide-in’ additional pollutant monitoring in the future.”
City raises rates for water and wastewater
A CITY’S residents will see an increase in their water bills for the first time since October 2008 after their city council approved the hikes last week.
Members of the League City council adopted the water and wastewater rate increases on a second and final reading during their August 11 meeting. The new rates are effective on November 1.
The city’s average residential customer will see their bill rise by $8.30 per month, from $63.09 to $71.39. The average League City household uses 7,000 gallons per month.
The new rate system includes a conservation approach. Under the new tiered system, higher use results in higher charges.
City manager Mark Rohr said the new funds will be used for water management. He referred to the city’s new strategic plan, Roadmap To The Future, when making his case.
“One of the priorities identified in our roadmap to the future was the need to diversify our water supply sources,” he said.
“This rate increase will allow the city to strategically invest nearly $300m in the water and sewer infrastructure throughout a 10-year planning cycle to include the replacement of the 42-inch water line along state highway 3 that serves as the city’s primary water source from Houston’s southeast water-treatment plant.”
Last month, League City hit a milestone when its population surpassed 98,000 residents, he said.
“We anticipate our population to continue to climb as we build upon the undeveloped land within the city,” he said.
“The utility rate changes put forth to the city council establish a solid financial foundation that benefits our citizens as we progress down our roadmap to the future.”
NewGen Strategies And Solutions prepared the forecasting study that the city relied on in setting the new rates. The study reviewed the city’s current utility revenues and expenditures and then provided recommendations to keep the utility fund stable.
The study also highlighted the benefits of moving to a conservation-rate strategy, saying it correlates water resources with community needs, according to the city.
The new base charges for residents and commercial business under the ordinance stay the same at $7.13 for water and $13.88 for wastewater. Bills will then be based on the volume of water or wastewater service according to the rates in the tables xxx.
Irrigation-only rates will have the same base charge of $7.13 and a volumetric rate of $7 per 1,000 gallons.