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Dallas County Asks Feds To Clean Up State Air Standards

Christopher Connelly/KERA
The Dallas County Commissioner's Court

The Dallas County Commissioner’s Court approved a resolution Tuesday calling for higher state air quality standards for North Texas.

The resolution says the Environmental Protection Agency should reject a state plan. It’s an effort to put pressure on Austin to do more to limit ozone. The American Lung Association recently gave Dallas-Fort Worth a failing grade for ozone pollution.

The resolution itself is largely symbolic; it won’t do anything on its own. But public health and environmental groups hope Dallas County will be the first of many local governments in North Texas to call for a more aggressive air pollution plan.

“There are literally scores of people dying as a result of this pollution. That’s not made up, that’s real,” said Robert Haley, who heads the epidemiology department at UT Southwestern Medical School. “Now, if a terrorist killed 70 to 100 people in North Texas tomorrow, there would be an outcry. There would be a panic. And yet here are 70 to 100 people dying every year because of this [ozone pollution].”

Advocates say the state needs to do more to limit ozone-producing emissions from coal-fired power plants in East Texas, cement kilns in Midlothian and natural gas compressor station in the Barnett Shale in order to clear the air in Dallas.

In Washington, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Marc Veasey wrote a letter asking the EPA to impose a stricter standard if Texas does not negotiate in good faith.

Credit Christopher Connelly/KERA
Commissioner Theresa Daniel drafted the resolution asking for the EPA to reject the state's air quality plan for Dallas-Fort Worth.

The agency charged with drafting the state’s air pollution plan, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, challenged the science behind the resolution and said that the current draft of the plan meets federal standards. In a written statement, it said stricter ozone standards aren’t expected to produce significant health improvements and called the link between ozone and pre-mature death “tenuous at best.” The state agency also pointed to progress in Dallas-Fort Worth air quality over the last 25 years.

Commissioners approved the Dallas County resolution by a three-two vote.

“I think it’s premature,” John Wiley Price, one of the two no-votes, said, since the state’s plan hasn’t been submitted yet. It’s expected to be finalized in July.

Judge Clay Jenkins, who voted for the resolution, said that means it’s early enough to find a solution.

“It would far be better for us to all work together to create our own Texas plan rather than to turn in a plan that we deem to be inadequate, only to have it rejected by the federal government and them come up with a plan,” Jenkins said.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.