The Environmental Protection Agency ignored recommendations from Gov. Rick Perry’s office last week when it announced plans to add Hood and Wise Counties to a designated Dallas-Fort Worth nonattainment area that has failed to meet federal ozone standards. Perry's office had lobbied for maintaining the nine counties in the federal designation and not adding any others.
It's the latest round in Texas vs. the Environmental Protection Agency, a protracted battle in which Perry's office routinely finds itself at odds with EPA decisions.
Yet the state agency tasked with overseeing air quality issues originally endorsed the EPA’s move before reversing course. Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Perry’s office said the recommendation was changed to reflect more recent data.
Regional Administrator Al Armendariz sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry on Friday announcing that it plans to add Wise and Hood counties to the official designation. The move could lead to stricter regulations in those two counties and also allow for enhanced air monitoring in those areas. Environmentalists have predicted that some of the worst air in the area may be in Wise County.
In 2008, TCEQ issued a report to the governor's office based on 2005-2007 air quality data. The report recommended that Wise and Hood Counties be added to the DFW nonattainment zone. The report noted that Wise "produces significant stationary source emissions."
Over the next three years, the report's recommendations were edited. At a December 2008 meeting, TCEQ commissioners requested that Wise be removed from the recommendation to the governor’s office, TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson said. Hood was cut out of the recommendation less than two months ago, he said.
The governor’s office’s said its recommendation to the EPA was based on TCEQ’s more recent recommendations, which were based on air quality data from 2008 to 2010.
"A lot of people believe they were taken out for political reasons," said Jim Schermbeck, head of the local environmental group Downwinders at Risk.
While ozone levels in parts of the region were lower from 2008 to 2010, they spiked again this year, Schermbeck said.
"If you look at just general ozone levels...sure they went down, but then 2011 was the worst since 2007," Schermbeck said. He also noted that factors beyond ozone levels were likely considered by the EPA, such as the amount of natural gas production in those areas and the growing number of residents from Wise and Hood county that regularly commute to Tarrant and Dallas Counties.
The EPA is accepting responses from the state to its decision until February 29.
"We have until February 29th to submit additional information for EPA to consider," Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry's office, said. "TCEQ is reviewing EPA’s letter now and will make a determination as to whether additional information is needed before that deadline."