Apr 26, 2022 - News

Low air quality could mean more regulation for Texas

Illustration of a hand in a suit plugging up a smokestack

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Texas has repeatedly failed to meet air quality standards, and many parts of the state will likely face more aggressive federal regulations as a result.

Why it matters: Air pollution is a serious threat to human health.

  • A recent study conducted by University of Texas' Dell Medical School researchers found that 16 out of every 10,000 Travis County children under age 18 are hospitalized with asthma each year, a rate that’s 60% higher than the national average.
  • Travis County, which is currently in compliance with EPA air standards, received a D grade in the American Lung Association's latest "State of the Air" report on ground-level ozone — a key smog component — an improvement from last year's F grade.

The big picture: The EPA is working toward tightening ozone and particulate matter limits to improve the country's air quality.

  • A panel of independent science advisers released formal recommendations urging the agency to tighten restrictions on particulate matter, which causes a variety of health issues.
  • While Travis County is in line with current standards, further tightening could take the county out of compliance or keep it just barely within the new range, according to Andrew Hoekzema, director of regional planning and services at CAPCOG.

Of note: Austin is the largest city in the U.S. in full compliance with all federal air quality standards, Hoekzema said.

  • "That's a feather in our cap, but that doesn't mean it's perfect and it doesn't mean there isn't more to improve."

Zoom out: Other parts of the state that have failed to meet those standards could face further regulations.

  • The EPA recently proposed reclassifying the Dallas and Houston metro areas as "severe" violators of 2008 federal ozone pollution standards, meaning the agency would likely impose stricter pollution controls like requiring businesses to install better pollution-control technology.
  • "We have not taken enough initiative across the state to address the deadly pollution that being an industrial state has brought here," Elena Craft, associate vice president of climate and health at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Axios.

What's next: The EPA will have a virtual hearing about reclassifying parts of Texas on May 9.

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