EPA could crack down on area ozone

The 10-county Dallas-Fort Worth area is doing another dance with the Environmental Protection Agency over proposed tougher standards against smog-forming ozone.

It’s a bit of a dream-world type of dance, given that the region hasn’t yet met the old standard, which was set in 2008, and doesn’t really expect to anytime soon.

For obvious reasons, the EPA classifies Dallas-Fort Worth as a “nonattainment area” for ozone. If the area were to park itself in “nonattainment” land for an extended period, it could incur federal sanctions.

Last year, DFW finally met an even older standard set in 2004. That’s progress — albeit on a 10-year timetable, at a time when the EPA clearly is moving much faster on tougher and tougher standards.

The largest source of ozone in this area is the tailpipe emissions from all those vehicles moving down local roads. Similarly, progress in bringing down local ozone levels has come mostly from older vehicles being replaced by newer, cleaner ones.

Elevated ground-level ozone, particularly in hot summer months, can make breathing more difficult, trigger asthma attacks and decrease the body’s resistance to respiratory infections.

Ozone also affects wildlife, agriculture and even some structures.

To get technical for a moment, the EPA in 2004 set a permissible ozone limit of 84 parts per billion in ground-level air. The agency lowered that limit to 75 parts per billion in 2008, and local planners thought they had until 2018 to get there.

But now the EPA is considering dropping the limit again, to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, by the end of this year.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined with 10 other governors this week in sending a letter of protest to the EPA. The letter argued that progress in air quality has been made in tandem with policies that promote job growth.

Consideration of tougher rules, the letter said, “jettisons these free market policies in favor of an onerous, job-crushing standard.”

Pretty much the same Abbott vs. EPA fight that’s been going on for years.

Local planners, through the Regional Transportation Council, have also sent comments to the EPA. They’ve said things like high levels of “background” ozone moving into the area from other parts of the state mean current strategies are not sufficient to meet the tougher standard.