Do what you can to im­prove qual­ity of Texas’ air

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

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.

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