Lowering speed limits. Closing drive-through lanes. Slapping extra fees on owners of smog-belching vehicles. Those are among the strategies often talked about to reduce air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. But all those options combined wouldn’t be enough to bring the Metroplex into compliance, if the Environmental Protection Agency moves forward with a plan to lower the national ozone standard to 65 parts per billion, a clean air advocate warned Fort Worth business and political leaders Wednesday.
It would be impossible for the Dallas-Fort Worth region to comply with that standard, said Jenna Cohen, executive director of the North Texas Clean Air Coalition.
“Just our ground level ozone, if nobody was in a car, we’d already be at 60 parts per billion,” Cohen told members of the 35W Coalition Wednesday during a quarterly meeting at Texas Motor Speedway. “If the EPA lowered the level to 65, obviously we can’t do that. We can’t have people not driving their cars. But that is the worst-case scenario. We would not be able to drive, and would not get the federal funding for our light rail.”
Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which can cause serious breathing problems – especially for seniors, children and people with ailments such as asthma. Ozone is caused by hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road, as well as sources such as natural gas well and industrial plants.
The current EPA standard is 84 parts per billion, and the nine largest counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth region are on the verge of complying with it, after years of violating federal clean air laws. Today, the North Texas area emits just under 86 parts per billion, based on measurements taken during eight-hour periods, and averaged over three years. A decision by the federal agency to lower the standard to 65 parts per billion could come in July, and the result could mean a loss of billions of dollars in federal funding, if the region continues to produce more ozone than allowed.
Reducing the amount of ozone allowed in cities across the nation has been talked about for more than two years, although the EPA has delayed making the change several times.
Companies could lose tens of millions of dollars, and the region could lose thousands of jobs, added Russell Laughlin, president of the 35W Coalition and senior vice president of Hillwood Properties, which built Alliance Airport and the surrounding development.
Business and political leaders, who meet quarterly as the 35W Coalition to talk about ways to improve and expand the Interstate 35W corridor in northern Tarrant County and southern Denton County, were alarmed by Cohen’s assessment of the EPA’s possible action. They noted that the region has had tremendous success during the past decade in reducing ozone, but that the federal agency keeps changing the rules. “They keep moving the goal posts,” said Barney Holland Jr., president of Barney Holland Oil Co. in Fort Worth.
-- Gordon Dickson, firstname.lastname@example.org