The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave Houston three years to meet health-based limits for ground-level ozone, or smog. While it is a good goal, the six-county region cannot achieve it without the agency taking aggressive steps to reduce air pollution.
Unfortunately, we are not seeing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt take those steps. He is moving in the other direction, promoting policies that will increase smog-forming pollution in Houston and beyond.
Here are three realities about Houston’s stubborn smog problem:
Our air is cleaner today because of regulation and enforcement
Houston is not as smoggy as it was in 1999, when the city took the unwanted title of America’s smog capital from Los Angeles – the product of the region's growing industries and traffic. Smog forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from industrial facilities and vehicles cook in sunlight.
The reason for the vast majority of the documented pollution reductions in Houston? Federal action. Over the past two decades, EPA has reduced smog-forming pollution through consent decrees with Texas companies, stricter emissions controls for industrial sources and vehicles, and improved technologies to capture pollution from emissions sources.
Pruitt, however, appears determined to roll back protections for the air we breathe. He did not set the deadline for communities to meet smog standards until after courts ordered him to act. He also recently proposed to weaken Obama-era fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, a move that would increase smog-forming pollution that causes asthma attacks and other heart and lung diseases.
Houston needs more action because progress has stalled
After years of improving air quality, Houston has not seen any gains since 2014. Here is the bottom line: the region’s smog levels remain unhealthy.
Already this year, Houston has endured seven days with ozone levels considered too high for active children and adults and those with lung disease. These smoggy days happened between April 24 and May 9 – a span of 15 days.
What’s more, smog knows no boundaries. On May 7, more than half of the region’s 34 stationary monitors recorded unhealthy ozone levels, stretching from near Bush Intercontinental in the north to Galveston in the South, from Baytown in the east to the University of Houston in the west. A day later, the region’s worst smog was in The Woodlands, the leafy suburb some 30 miles north of downtown Houston.
We can do better
There is a lot more work to do to bring Houston’s air quality into compliance with health-based standards. To meet the 2021 deadline, we will need aggressive action from Pruitt’s EPA.
Let EPA know that you want clean air for a healthier Houston. You can write the agency here.