The determination last month by the Environmental Protection Agency that San Antonio’s air quality has failed to meet federal standards has led some to wonder what it means for the DFW economy.
After long fending off the designation of “nonattainment” in achieving the required levels for ozone concentrations, state and some local officials have expressed alarm that Bexar County will suffer economic loss.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality quickly posted a news release declaring EPA’s decision as having created “an unnecessary burden on the residents, industry, and governing bodies of Bexar County without any associated benefit from an air quality perspective.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s recommendation – a step required in EPA’s statutory process for determining air quality classifications – was to find the San Antonio area in compliance for ozone health standards.
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TCEQ’s further response was to declare that the EPA had demonstrated “blatant disregard for Cooperative Federalism in not supporting Governor Abbott’s recommendation.
The state agency projected the decision as having a negative impact on economic growth “for decades to come” and said it would be reaching out to work with local stakeholders to address the situation.
News reports said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was more direct.
“The EPA’s nonattainment designation will cost Bexar County residents hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said in a statement. “The EPA ignored a long track record of improving air quality in Bexar County. We are extremely disappointed and will examine every possible remedy.”
The Alamo Area Council of Governments found a much worse impact, projecting the economic loss “as much as $36.2 billion.”
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler weighed in from Washington, “We look forward to supporting Texas as they work to improve air quality and foster economic opportunity.”
All of this comes at a time when the nation’s vast environmental lobbying groups, many in the Democrat Party and the national media have attacked EPA as an agency rolling back progress in environmental protection.
If that was as rampant as portrayed, San Antonio would have remained undesignated for failing the ozone standard. EPA’s decision would seem to belie such criticism.
So, does this mean the DFW area could somehow benefit from San Antonio having fallen into the same air quality nonattainment category as our area, as well as that of the Houston region, has had for many years?
The theory is San Antonio has now lost its advantage in the competition for attracting economic investment and job creation and that result sort of levels the playing field in the quest to lure corporate America to Texas.
While Bexar County officials are concerned about this, I doubt their worries will become reality.
That region has always been on the cusp of nonattainment and, in an effort to prevent the designation that has now occurred, not wanted to attract industry that would send emissions into the air that would worsen ozone levels.
The cause of becoming classified by EPA for unhealthy air is not because the air quality there has gotten worse, it’s due to decisions of the prior administration to lower the level for regulatory required ozone concentrations.
Contrary to all the criticism it has received, the Trump Administration has not reversed that determination and now has included areas across the country in the mission to develop healthier air.
Here’s how the agency explains their actions, “EPA has developed and will be announcing a number of tools to minimize disruption for nonattainment areas and facilitate demonstrations that these areas meet the standard by the attainment date.”
Now, all three of the state’s major population centers are on course to achieve compliance on a schedule that projects success to achieve better air quality for all Texans while, at the same time, continuing to enjoy record economic growth.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, and a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.