‘Tis the Season (for Ozone)
April 1st to October 31st is prime ozone season in Central Texas. The Environmental Protection Agency will be watching to see if the region meets federal Clean Air standards. But, while the EPA watches us, many in Central Texas will also be watching the EPA.
A little over a year ago the agency announced plans to issue stricter air quality standards. Under the rules, it would take less ground-level ozone for a region to reach what’s called “non-attainment.” Last summer, environmentalists and policy makers watched with baited breath, as Central Texas teetered on the edge of looser, Bush-era attainment standards. At the same time they waited for the EPA’s announcement. That announcement never came.
“It’s been postponed now for two or three different times on a six month interval,” Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison, Chair of the Central Texas Clean Air force, said at a news conference at Austin City Hall.
The fact that those new rules weren’t enacted helped the region stay in attainment last year, but just barely.
“Well, we were exactly on the number, if we had been one number higher we would have been subject to non-attainment status,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
Leffingwell and Morrison say non attainment could cost the region financially. Federal dollars for transportation projects become more difficult to get if roads might add to pollution.
Now that ozone season is upon us again, eyes are turning back to the EPA. The agency says it will now make an announcement on July 29th. Of course, that could be pushed back again.
“There’s that chance. You know nobody’s holding their breath. But at some point it just gets to be a meaningless exercise,” said Bill Gill, air quality program manager at the Capital Area Council of Governments.
Gill said that air quality standards might have as much to do with the political climate in Washington, as with the actual climate here in Austin.
“Well there’s always political concerns in almost anything you do. And clearly these days with the new congress being more conservative in questioning a number of EPA policies,” said Gill.
Regardless of where the EPA comes down on standards, members of Texas Clean Air Force say it’s important for everyone decrease emissions further this year, as less ozone could lead to a healthier Central Texas.