New Texas lawsuit fights EPA paper tiger


Ozone levels in North Texas show downward trend, but they've never met EPA standards on time.
Ozone levels in North Texas show downward trend, but they've never met EPA standards on time.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed another lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, this time attempting to block tighter standards for control of ozone, common summertime smog.

The state has made progress in reducing ozone levels, including those in North Texas.

But our part of Texas is still far from meeting the ozone standard set by President George W. Bush’s EPA in 2008. And it hasn’t been all that long since we finally reached the goal set by President Bill Clinton’s EPA in 1997.

In a statement Monday, Paxton painted himself as the gallant knight warding off the federal dragon.

“Texas has proven that we can reduce ambient ozone concentrations without stifling growth,” he said, “and my office will continue to defend our state from the EPA’s harmful and overreaching regulations.”

But in 18 years, North Texas hasn’t reached a single EPA ozone standard on time, and the threatened federal sanctions have not materialized.

Much of our progress has come as older pollution-belching vehicles, including commercial fleets, have been replaced by cleaner, newer ones.

There could be sanctions. We could lose federal dollars for transportation projects. But it hasn’t happened yet, and we’ve been out of compliance with the federal regs for a long time.

The Clinton administration told us we should lower ozone levels to 85 parts per billion. This was when the levels in North Texas were 102 parts per billion.

We got down to 86 ppb in 2009, then spiked back up to 90 ppb in 2011 before beginning another slow decent. But the Bush administration had set a new goal of 75 ppb.

The feds told us we were in “serious nonattainment” of the 85 ppb Clinton standard and gave us a deadline of June 15, 2013 to meet it. We didn’t. Nothing happened.

The Obama EPA tossed out the Clinton standard and went with the Bush 75 ppb requirement. This year, we’re down to 83 ppb, a long way from the goal.

We’re in what the EPA calls “moderate nonattainment.” We’ve been told to get down to 75 ppb by July 20, 2018.

Now the new Obama standard is 70 ppb. If we stay at the “moderate nonattainment” designation, we’ll have to reach the new goal by 2024.

If we are reclassified as “serious nonattainment” again, we’ll have until 2027 to meet the 70 ppb standard.

So, unless Paxton’s suit is successful, somewhere between eight and 11 years from now North Texas could see serious consequences. Or maybe, if history tells us anything, we won’t.