The top doctors’ organizations in Texas and Dallas County, along with other groups and individuals, pressed hard on Thursday for a much tougher federal limit on ozone, or smog.
They told Environmental Protection Agency officials at an all-day hearing that Texas needs federal action on clean air because the state hasn’t acted.
A senior Texas official defended the state’s record and told the EPA that a proposed smog crackdown isn’t needed. Representatives of coal mining, natural gas, petroleum, manufacturing and chemicals echoed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s assessment.
However, Dr. Robert Haley of Dallas, an internist and epidemiologist, attacked their contention that health isn’t at stake in where the EPA sets a new standard for ozone.
Haley spoke for the Dallas County Medical Society and the Texas Medical Association, which he said “strongly endorse” toughening the federal ozone standard from its current 75 ppb down to 60 ppb. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has proposed a range of 65-70 ppb but is taking comments on the possibility of 60 ppb.
Dallas-Fort Worth’s average level for 2011-14 was 81 ppb.
Haley said a new study used a computer model to see what effect a 10-ppb reduction would have had in 2008 for 10 North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant. Experts found that cleaner air would have meant 320 fewer hospitalizations, $10 million less in hospitalization costs, 77 fewer premature deaths and $617 million less in economic losses tied to those deaths.
“As physicians who care for those patients and see the asthma attacks, respiratory failure, hospitalizations and premature deaths, we believe that the citizens of these 10 counties are paying a high price for ozone pollution that could potentially be avoided,” Haley said.
David Brymer, the TCEQ’s air quality director, told EPA officials that the state agency found little or no evidence of health harm. The existing standard already protects the public and a tighter one would not prevent breathing problems or other ills, he said.
“We all share the common goal” of clean air, Brymer said.
Industries agreed with the TCEQ, which regulates their emissions. They also said a lower ozone limit would kill jobs.
Austin lawyer Christina Wisdom, speaking for the Texas Association of Manufacturers, said a stricter standard would not be in the nation’s best interest and would “decimate” Texas jobs just to make a “feel-good” change.
Texas Chemical Council President Hector Rivero, whose group represents chemical manufacturers, said science doesn’t support a tighter standard. He also repeated a frequent assertion of opponents — that changing the standard before all violator cities have met the current standard is “moving the goal line.”
But Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Clean Air Watch, asked where someone with a breathing problem would go for diagnosis and treatment — “to a doctor or to an oil-company lobbyist?”
Environmentalists said only federal pressure has led to clean-air progress in Texas. “I have no doubt that it would be much worse” without it, said Christine Guldi of Dallas.
Susybelle Gosslee of the League of Women Voters of Dallas, told the EPA that Texas hasn’t made an honest attempt to clean the air. Zac Trahan, DFW program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said the TCEQ’s disbelief in ozone’s health harm had led the state agency to adopt a goal of “close enough.”
And Jim Schermbeck, director of the North Texas clean-air group Downwinders at Risk, said the public was relying on the EPA instead of state officials.
“Only strong federal action can salvage the situation and give Texans safe, legal air to breathe,” he said.