D-FW faces likelihood of tougher ozone standard

FORT WORTH -- Dallas-Fort Worth, which fails to meet federal ozone standards, will have to find a way to cut ozone-forming emissions even further under tougher regulations.

The proposed changes, revealed by the Environmental Protection Agency in January, were discussed Tuesday at a public hearing of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that was held via videoconference in Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and Beaumont.

The EPA wants to reduce its eight-hour ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to a range between 60 and 70 parts per billion. An EPA rule is scheduled to be issued this summer and finalized by year's end.

The required date to meet the attainment deadline is still to be determined, commission officials said.

In 2009, Tarrant County had an eight-hour average ozone reading of 86 ppb at two locations, one in far north Fort Worth near Keller and another at Eagle Mountain Lake. Both were the highest readings in the state and well above the 2008 revised standard of 75 ppb -- and much higher than the proposed changes.

The readings are determined by averaging the most recent three years of data. The counties included in the D-FW nonattainment area are Tarrant, Dallas, Denton, Johnson, Hood, Parker, Collin, Kaufman and Rockwall.

Jim Schermbeck, head of the environmental group Downwinders at Risk, questioned commission staff about whether any ozone monitoring devices would be placed in Wise County since the highest concentrations of ozone in the Metroplex have consistently been found in northwest Tarrant County, near the Wise County line.

After officials said there was no plan to place devices in Wise County, Schermbeck asked the staff what assurances they could give the public that the agency would vigorously pursue implementation of a plan to meet the EPA standards, given the commission's previous opposition to the 1997 ozone standards and the 2008 revisions.

After the meeting, Schermbeck also predicted that Wise County will eventually be brought into the nine North Texas counties that are part of the nonattainment area.

David Brymer, assistant director of the commission's air quality division, replied that the agency has a "vested interest" in getting the plan properly implemented.

But in January, commission board members expressed dismay at the revisions.

"There is no doubt we strive to make the air cleaner through our permitting process and a variety of other programs; but the goals set by EPA must be achievable," Commissioner Buddy Garcia said at that time. "The purpose of the Clean Air Act is to protect human health and the environment, not to attain an arbitrary threshold."

EPA vs. Texas

The EPA is also battling the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over other issues.

The federal agency has threatened to take over monitoring of air quality if the state keeps violating portions of the Clean Air Act. It has said it will take over the operating permit for one Corpus Christi refinery and signaled its intent to take over 39 more permits if Texas doesn't toughen its enforcement.

Brandt Maanchen of the Houston chapter of the Sierra Club also said the commission needs to take a regional or statewide approach to ozone rather than limiting the number of counties subject to monitoring.

He recommended monitoring devices be placed in pristine East Texas areas such as the Sam Houston National Forest and the Big Thicket National Preserve to gauge ozone's effect on those ecosystems.

The Sierra Club has threatened to file a lawsuit if the EPA fails to make Texas comply with the Clean Air Act.

The proposed EPA requirements would also add 10 areas -- Abilene, Wichita Falls, Sherman-Denison, Texarkana, Amarillo, Bryan-College Station, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa and San Angelo -- to ozone monitoring.

If the lowest standard of 60 ppb were implemented, even remote areas such as Big Bend National Park in far West Texas might have trouble meeting it. The National Park Service maintains an ozone monitoring station that recorded a three-year average of 66 ppb. Laredo had the lowest three-year average in the state, with 51 ppb.

BILL HANNA, 817-390-7698