After more than a decade of dancing on the edge of compliance with federal clean air laws, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified officials that Bexar County is now in 'marginal non-attainment,' News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The reason isn't dust from the Sahara Desert or burning fields in Guatemala, it is the ozone from the exhaust from gasoline powered vehicles.
For years, San Antonio was the largest city in the U.S. which was in compliance with EPA clean air laws, and officials say what happened wasn't that our air suddenly got dirties, in fact, it has actually gotten cleaner over the last several years. But the EPA moved the goal posts, significantly reducing the ozone levels required for compliance.
“The EPA air quality designation is no surprise,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “The science showed clearly for several years that our region has been teetering on the edge of nonattainment because of stricter federal standards. As this designation loomed, we made great progress in achieving better air quality, and we will continue to strive for cleaner air. The region’s ozone levels are down significantly from where they were a decade ago.”
So what happens now?Officials say due to the county's 'marginal' non attainment status, serious remedies will not be imposed right away.
The Alamo Area Council of Governments. the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and other local officials will be allowed to come up with a plan of action for getting into compliance, which will be monitored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The plan of action must be in place by 2021.
The AAMPO will oversee a process called Transportation Conformity, which requires an analysis to ensure that new transportation projects do not exacerbate our ozone levels, and new businesses or expansions that will increase emissions by more than 100 tons per year will be required to complete a TCEQ permitting process called a “New Source Review.”
Local officials say the plan of action is likely to essentially continue what is being done. CPS Energy has made major reductions in emissions, and plans to close the coal-fired Dealy Power Station next year. The new 'anti idling law,' which was passed by City Council last year, is likely to be expanded, and the city says it will explore efforts at ' modifying personal behaviors that contribute to air pollution.'
Not everybody is excited about the non attainment desingnation.
The Texas Association of Manufacturers is disappointed that the EPA did not accept the State of Texas’ request that Bexar County be classified as in attainment, based on challenges to the validity of the rule, as well as tremendous and ongoing improvements in air quality in Bexar County," said Tony Bennett, President of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. "Per the EPA, Bexar County has until 2021 to reach attainment and it is projected to be on track to do so. An unwarranted non-attainment designation threatens job growth without improving air quality. TAM supports a reasoned approach to improving air quality in Bexar County while responsibly growing the economy.”
If the county does not come into compliance by 2021, federal officials can step in and mandate expensive annual tailpipe emissions testing as part of the annual vehicle inspection process, require that local gas stations only sell more expensive super-clean burning gas, limit or even cancel construction of new highways, even mandate that all roads in the metro area have their speed limits cut to 55mph.