Do what you can to improve quality of Texas’ air
T he quality of the air that we breathe is vitally important. Unhealthy air endangers the health and lives of everybody. Serious respiratory illnesses and increased health care costs have a direct relationship to out-of-pocket medical expenses and increased insurance premiums. Unhealthy air is particularly dangerous for children, chronically ill people and senior citizens.
Air pollution has no boundaries. No walls can prevent the wind from bringing pollutants to Austin from other areas of Texas, other states and even from across international borders. We need strong air quality standards and strict enforcement from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Ground-level ozone has been the greatest air pollutant challenge for Austin. Austin and Travis County have been working with surrounding counties to reduce peak ozone emissions. Austin is studying ways to reduce our dependence on the Fayetteville coal-fired power plant, a major source of carbon dioxide, located about 65 miles southeast of Austin.
The bottom line is that the quality of air in Austin is a direct result of our own local decisions, plus decisions made by private sector industries and by other cities and states.
Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 (amended in 1990), which sets forth minimum standards for air quality in all states. Its aim is to protect human health and the environment while balancing environmental and economic concerns. But Texas continues to lag in meeting the minimum air quality requirements.
For the past several years, the EPA has attempted negotiations with the TCEQ to strengthen its air permitting requirements. But TCEQ has maintained that the expense for industries to meet EPA regulations would be too great. Recently, the EPA officially overturned the 16-year-old TCEQ air permitting program, which the EPA says violates the Clean Air Act.
Clean air is not a partisan issue. It is a serious and complex issue that requires the best efforts of Republicans and Democrats to ensure that our air is clean and to maintain our air quality even as we grow in population and industrial output.
The League of Women Voters has been at the forefront of efforts to protect air and water resources since the 1960s. We believe that protection and management of natural resources are responsibilities shared by all levels of government. We support state government action for control of air pollution in Texas, including: the power to set and enforce standards stricter than those required by the federal government; adequate funding to carry out research, planning and enforcement; legislation allowing local and regional governments to set and enforce standards stricter than those of the state; encouragement of citizen involvement in the rule-making and enforcement process.
Because of Texas’ noncompliance with the Clean Air Act over many years, the federal government must enforce higher standards. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to ensure that the state fulfills its responsibility to all Texans so that we might enjoy the same protections afforded to other Americans under the Clean Air Act. So what can one person do? We encourage all citizens to do what we as individuals can do to reduce pollution, but there is more you can do. On Nov. 2, we have an opportunity to exercise our influence. The ballot will include candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state senator, state representative and U.S. representative. These officials will make decisions that affect our air quality. Ask them the following questions:
Do you support enforcement of the Clean Air Act, which will help mitigate conditions that lead to asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease?
Do you think TCEQ should continue issuing permits for coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of carbon pollutants?
Would you promote more oversight of industrial polluters?
What will you recommend when TCEQ is being reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission?
Have you considered the benefits of cleaner air, which would prevent premature deaths, nonfatal heart attacks and cases of acute bronchitis?
Exercise your privilege as a citizen; demand answers from the candidates and be sure to vote in November. Mcintyre is president of the austin league of Women Voters.