Community Perspective of Houston’s Air Quality Matthew Tejada Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention and Mothers for Clean Air www.ghasp.org
When I moved to Houston… Ranked 49th out of 50 cities in a nationwide poll of college-educated 25-34 year olds asked about where they would prefer to live. Might not seem that significant in a time when Houston has seemed recession proof (or resistant) and our housing market remains strong, but the above is one of the most closely watched demographic trends as a measure of future economic growth and stability.
John Mecklin, “The Change I Almost Couldn’t Believe In”, August 12, 2009. A decade and a half later, Houston is in some ways unchanged. When I visited in June, I was reminded of the good-old days by 100-degree temperatures and air that smelled like a snuffed candle. But for a long time, Houston has been more cosmopolitan and livable than outsiders give it credit for, and today, as the country's fourth-largest city, it's a true economic powerhouse, a real racial melting pot, a sports mecca, even a cultural center. This hasn't been a cow town in many a decade.
We are seeing this perception reinforced by our current “woe is me” reaction to new NAAQS standards for pollutants such as ozone.
This approach will serve us very poorly over the next several years as… • Houston will have a huge challenge with the new ozone standard of 60-70ppb • Houston will likely be out of attainment for a new annual PM2.5 standard of between 12-14mcg • Houston will likely be out of attainment for a new SO2 hourly standard • And that’s not to mention NOx or GHGs • Or the attainment status of other Texas cities
We are missing a huge opportunity in Texas but especially in Houston… How we react to new NAAQS standards, challenges to different fundamental portions of our state air quality regulatory scheme, and Global Climate Change, could put an entirely new face to, and totally change the international perception of, our home.
Now is really the perfect opportunity to embrace a time of change. • An EPA which has returned science and protecting public health to the center of its mission • A thaw in our state legislature toward the idea of protecting public health and the environment through improved regulation • And Sunset!
The Environmental Community’s Demands of Sunset Review of TCEQ • ? • ? • ? • ? • ? • ? • ? • ?
We’re not ready to share that with you just yet. But, we will be attempting, through our recommendations, to improve the efficiencies and logical allocation of resources of the agency in order that it might better protect the health and environmental integrity of our state. A large number of our specific asks will not only be things the environmental community wants, but we believe things that staff within the agency want in order to better do their jobs.
We have made progress over the past several years at improving our air quality in many places around Houston • Some of those successes have been greater than others • Some of those success were easier than others • Some were dealing with problems so large, it would be embarrassing not to succeed • And some of those success might prove fleeting over time
Now is not the time • to take our foot off the gas • to recoil from new challenges designed to protect public health • to spend time patting ourselves on the back • and to continue to distract ourselves with useless political debates about science
We know we can do betterWe know we must do better Now is the time to • figure out what we did that worked and replicate those things elsewhere • cement those positive improvements in rules and not rely on personal goodwill of the moment • set some new challenges (and embrace those that are given to us) • be the leaders we know we can be in pushing the bounds of technology, efficient regulation and transparent regulation
What are we scared of? It’s not like the EPA is actually ever going to punish us for not doing exactly what they say.
The only ones that lose by our inaction are all of us • By a city that continues to be viewed around the country and around the world in the same ranks as Mexico City (without the history) and Beijing (without the communism) instead of Seattle (without the rain) or London (without the fog). • By those that are young • By those that have problems breathing • Or by those that live near an industrial facility (whether a big one on the Ship Channel or a small one in the middle of our neighborhood)