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Let’s clear the air

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By Lora-Marie Bernard

THE STATE is about to consider a plan to release the Houston-Galveston region from meeting federal ozone-level restrictions.
At its September 23 meeting, Texas’ commission on environmental quality will consider a substitution plan it hopes will stop measures now in place that regional interests regard as punitive.
If approved, the greater Houston region would be released from its anti-backsliding obligations for non-attainment of the federal standards. The region is seeking to be released from severe permitting thresholds levied by the federal environmental protection agency.
Announcing the meeting agenda, TCEQ deputy director Steve Hagle said: “The public would benefit from continued maintenance of air quality and from the awareness that the area is attaining the 1997 eight-hour ozone standard.”
The standard, measured in ozone parts per billion ambient air parts, is 76ppb.
The recommended substitutions would satisfy the eight-hour ozone standard. They would also ensure that EPA approves the region’s plan.
At the September meeting, commissioners will review substitutions to prove the region now meets the attainment level and to bolster the contention that the region has permanent and enforceable emissions reductions.
Another important substitution would demonstrate that the region can maintain the standard during the next 10 years.
Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties are included under the restrictions.
In 1997, the federal government lengthened the time a county must keep its ozone level under check. Before 1997, the nation measured ozone levels by the hour but now each region measures its ozone levels by workday, or eight-hour, intervals.
In the past decade, EPA has continued to tighten its requirements. The increasing regulation keeps the industry-rich Houston-Galveston region in a tense relationship with the agency.
The region has had to submit various proposals, new plans and face additional fees for years to reach the standard’s attainment.
In June, EPA determined that the region’s 2014 data had met the ambient air requirements. In a previous round, EPA determined that the 2013 data had
met only the outdated one-hour standard.
Nonetheless, the region’s counties remain subject to the nonattainment requirements in their current air plan. That plan, approved when the region was in nonattainment, includes the anti-backsliding requirements.
Before EPA approves the substitutions, it will conduct a comment period. Until approval, the counties must remain in attainment with the current regulation. If ozone levels fall during the review, they will remain under the current measures.

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