Commentary: Air Quality is a Regional Pursuit

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Looking towards IH 10 on Wurzbach Road, this is truly the traffic center of the city. Photo by Warren Lieberman.

Looking towards Interstate 10 on Wurzbach Parkway. Photo by Warren Lieberman.

Recognizing that air quality is a regional pursuit, a coalition of local city and county governments is working together to exchange ideas and model best practices in an effort to curb pollution in the San Antonio area. Because clean air requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, the group is asking all San Antonio residents to take action in the fight against ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone forms from chemicals that are released into the air, much of which are generated from burning gasoline, diesel, coal and other fuels. Because it poses a risk to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency limits the amount that can be in the atmosphere. Last month, the federal agency decreased the amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.

Members of the Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Committee of the Alamo Area Council of Governments recently approved an accord that commits each local government represented on the committee to consider adopting any air quality measure implemented by another member government.

The accord ensures that any air quality measure implemented in one local jurisdiction is, at the very least, vetted in the others — the intent being the creation of a regional network of partners collaborating to shoulder the burden of air quality together.

This is a significant step in curbing air pollution in the San Antonio area. For almost two decades, the San Antonio area has narrowly avoided being designated a “dirty-air city” but the new EPA standards could quickly change that.

On Oct. 1, the EPA changed the national ozone standard, stating that recent scientific evidence supports a tougher standard to better protect human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to designate whether areas of the country are in attainment of a new air quality standard within two years of changing it. If that timeline is followed, the new ozone standard virtually guarantees the San Antonio area will be designated nonattainment in 2017.

Attainment is based on an average of local ozone data over a rolling three-year period in which the average must not exceed 70 ppb. EPA anticipates using the 2014-2016 averaging period to establish the country’s attainment and nonattainment regions under the new ozone standard. The San Antonio area’s current average, based on 2013-2015 ozone data, is 78 ppb. That means we’re in trouble if we don’t act soon.

A non-attainment designation requires the adoption of emission controls and development of plans for cleaning the air and regaining attainment status. Emission controls are expensive and can cost public and private sector industries millions of dollars, negatively impacting the local economy.

The price of ozone pollution also includes health costs. Ground-level ozone causes breathing problems and has also been linked to heart disease. It is particularly harmful to children, people with respiratory illnesses, the elderly and those who are active outdoors. Other associated costs include the price of medical care and the effects of lost work and school time associated with air-quality-related illness.

Member governments of the AIR Committee are moving forward with clean air measures, which may include better land planning, restrictions on vehicle idling, vehicle emissions testing, phasing out of coal-fired power plants, and encouragement of mass transit, bicycling, walking, and ride-sharing.

But it’s important to recognize that because everyone — industries, businesses, and citizens — contributes to ozone pollution, everyone can be part of the solution. We need your help.

Our vehicle trips, the electricity we use, and the products we purchase provide opportunities for us to improve air quality by making choices that reduce their impact. Not only do these practices reduce emissions and improve public health incrementally, they save us money. Carpooling to work can save money spent on fuel. Programming thermostats can shave dollars off our power bills. We’re building a future for our children, wouldn’t you breathe a little easier knowing that you’re leaving it better than you found it? The time is now to make that promise and strive toward that goal.


*Top image: Looking towards Interstate 10 on Wurzbach Parkway. Photo by  Warren Lieberman. 

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4 thoughts on “Commentary: Air Quality is a Regional Pursuit

  1. Hate to sound like a Donnie downer, but you can have all the new regulations and policies you want; what needs to change is the mentality of the people that live in the region. People need to change how they feel about using public transport and demand a better more efficient city/regional system with greater coverage. I live in Highland Park and it takes me 2 hours and 3/4 transfers to get to Medical Center (work). So obviously I have no incentive to use VIA. I used to live in London, Seoul, Tokyo and Atlanta and rarely had the need to use my car in any of those places. In addition to changing the public transport people need to demand the exploration of cleaner energy sources in Texas as a whole. It’s embarrassing to have to listen to my friends in Scandinavia boast about their low carbon footprint as a result of their decades long embrace of renewable (natural) energy, and not have anything to contribute regarding Texas. I think as long as oil rules and gas is cheap and we opt to keep adding highways instead of rail/ Bus Rapid Transit, people will keep driving and the air in the San Antonio area will continue to suck. But this is just my opinion coming from a place of acute frustration.

    • If you rank San Antonio, TX @ it stands a poultry 34/100. Anything above 59/100 starts to define walkability.

      So, I agree with you and want to say that it isn’t an acute frustration but a massive oversight by the city of San Antonio.

  2. Wasn’t there a draft study, released prematurely in 2013, about pollution?

    “Air pollution from the Eagle Ford Shale play will raise the level of ozone in Bexar County by 2018, according to a recent study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Alamo Area Council of Governments.

    AACOG natural resource director Peter Bella shared the news Thursday at the “Keeping it Clean: Our Air, Our Health” forum, sponsored by the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum.

    He said the preliminary estimate from the study is the air pollution from the trucks, drilling rigs, generators and emissions from the wells themselves will increase ozone levels between 2 parts per billion and 7 ppb in Bexar County.

    Because San Antonio’s air is already in violation of federal standards, a rise in ozone levels of even 1 ppb matters. San Antonio’s ozone average is at 80 ppb and the federal standard is at 75 ppb.”

    Oh, that’s right, it was a DRAFT study.

    “Last summer AACOG said in a draft report that air pollution from the Eagle Ford Shale field likely would raise the level of ozone in Bexar County by 2018.

    But the agency then spent months reworking the report and gathering data. The AACOG report was done in conjunction with the TCEQ and funded by grants from that agency.

    AACOG’s final 260-page technical report is dated April 4 and was quietly posted online April 7. The report is focused on data and makes no recommendations.”

    We could always sue VW, I guess, because everyone knows it’s not a well flare that creates ozone, it’s burning it in your car:

    Fortunately, there’s been an oil bust and it’s also an El Nino year, so San Antonio will probably dodge a bullet again by a few ppb, and we can go back to congratulating ourselves for being the largest city to be in attainment status. Just put those studies and recommendations away for another few years. No need to change.

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