A recent Star-Telegram story raised the question of whether the Fort Worth-Arlington-Dallas area is going to become like Los Angeles.
The concern being addressed was whether our region, the fastest growing in the country, was on a course to resemble California’s urban problems of traffic congestion and rising housing costs.
Consultants cited in the report concluded our local economy will continue to benefit from current trends and that there was time to address these concerns and avoid the kind of gridlock LA has long experienced.
Accompanying the story was a 1990 aerial photo of the Los Angeles skyline shrouded in a thick haze of stifling air pollution.
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While not mentioned in the report, some readers worried if our air quality and our health was at risk and might one day look like what they saw in that picture.
Here’s some reasons why that’s not going to happen.
To begin with, the Clean Air Act had just been overhauled when that image of LA was published in the Los Angeles Times.
Had the law been as strict when first adopted in 1970 as it became with the 1990 revisions, even that urban area of about 10 million people wouldn’t have looked like that.
Twenty years of stricter controls over emission sources that led to the formation of harmful ozone concentrations, particulate matter, and haze would have made a big difference for California’s air quality had those measures been in place from the beginning.
By comparison with the Los Angeles area, we have achieved a good deal of success. Today their air quality is classified by the EPA as severe and extreme — levels four and five — the highest rankings of ozone concentrations.
The non-attainment areas here carry the classification of moderate ozone — level two on the ozone scale.
Every state with areas not in compliance with the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards is required to submit what is known as a State Implementation Plan providing for measures to achieve compliance with the Clean Air Act.
Scientific modeling requirements in developing those plans require projections of population growth, industrial development, and increases in vehicle miles traveled to produce controls that will bring about the desired results.
That means we are prepared for the continued growth in our region. The biggest contributor to emissions that led to ozone formation is vehicles operating on and off the roads of North Texas.
As older, higher polluting vehicles are replaced by later models with modern engine efficiencies burning cleaner gasoline formulas, ozone levels will decline.
Evidence of that working to our desired outcome of cleaner air can be demonstrated by the ongoing monitoring of the quality of our air. Of the 20 air monitoring stations in our region, a majority of them are in concurrence with current health standards.
As those standards are lowered to even healthier levels those monitors will inform us of what revisions are needed in our State Implementation Plan to achieve ongoing compliance.
The work always underway gives us confidence that the scene in that 28-year-old photo of downtown Los Angeles won’t ever be duplicated here.
It bears noting that the single greatest force that leads to ozone formation is the one thing we have no way to control whatsoever – it’s the weather. Bright sunny days, high temperatures, and little air movement provide the perfect conditions for ozone formation.
It’s that time of the year you will hear more ozone alert days. That doesn’t mean things are getting worse. It’s just part of the overall equation that has to be dealt with in our ultimate journey to healthy air.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.