hanging gas mask on hookFor the first time since DFW began recording its smog levels, the region's three-year running average dipped below the 1997 eight-hour 85 parts per billion (ppb) standard. After years of leveling off at around 86-87, it's dropped to 81 ppb.  That's good news.

DFW's decrease is attributed to 2011's terrible numbers rolling off the board and a wetter, cooler and windier summer than normal these last five months or so. As both drought-ridden 2011 and this year's results demonstrate, weather still plays an extremely critical role in how large or small our smog problem will be. Another summer or two like 2011 could easily put us back over the 1997 standard. More wet and cooler weather could see the decrease continue.

The news would be better except that we were supposed to have originally accomplished this milestone in 2009, then again last year after a second try, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

As it is, we still haven't reached the current, more protective 2008 national standard that was revised downward to 75 ppb after a review of the scientific literature.

In January, TCEQ will host a public hearing on its proposed "plan" to EPA to meet that goal that predicts most, but not all DFW monitors will reach 75 ppb by the summer of 2018. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that new controls on the Midlothian cement plants and the reduction of gas industry pollution could speed this achievement, TCEQ's new plan contains no new pollution control measures on any major sources of smog polluters – cement kilns, coal plants, gas sources – but instead relies on the federal adoption of a new lower-sulfur gasoline mix for on-road vehicles. Like past proposals by Rick Perry's TCEQ, this one depends solely on the feds to get them into compliance. TCEQ isn't lifting a regulatory finger to help.

And its new plan once again aims high, not low. At last count, there were at least three Tarrant and Denton County monitors that TCEQ admitted would still be above the 75 ppb standard at the end of 2018. "Close enough" is the reply from Austin.

From a public health perspective, it's even worse. Why does the ozone standard keep routinely going down? Because new and better evidence keeps accumulating to show widespread health problems at levels of exposure to smog that were once considered "safe." About every five years, the EPA's scientific advisory committee must assess the evidence and decide if a new standard needs to be enforced to protect public health.

For most of the last ten years, the position of this independent panel of scientists is that the standard should be somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb. They were ignored in 2008. They were ignored in 2011. They once again came to this conclusion last May. What was the evidence that persuaded them? That the current 75 ppb standard for smog causes almost 20% of children in "non-attainment areas" to have asthma attacks, and leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Cutting the standard to 60 ppb reduces those deaths by 95%. Since the Clean Air Act states the EPA is duty bound to set a smog standard protective of human health, 60 ppb seems to be the threshold level that the current scientific literature says is actually safe for the majority of the population most vulnerable to the impact of bad air. By contrast, a smog level of 70 ppb only reduces those deaths by 50%. (Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, Health and Environmental Impacts Division, Ambient Standards Group, August 2014)

By December 1st, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy must decide whether to officially recommend a standard in that 60-70 ppb range. It looks as though this time, the EPA might just endorse what the scientists are recommending, although it's unclear whether it'll be the upper or lower part of that range.

So even while the TCEQ is saying it's "close enough" to achieving the 75 ppb standard left over from George W's administration by 2018, the evidence is that level is too high to prevent large public health harms and must be lowered. A lot.

This is why it's so infuriating that the TCEQ is satisfied with getting only "close enough" to a 2008 standard that's about to become obsolete. Austin knows it could demand better air pollution control measures on the market right now that would accelerate the decrease in smog. It knows the pubic health would benefit from requiring such measures. But it's willing to condemn DFW children and others at risk for many more years for the sake of keeping its "business-friendly" reputation.

And while this year's slip below the 85 ppb standard is a sign of some progress, it remains true that DFW still has the worst air in Texas – a title we took from Houston years ago. Take a look at the chart summarizing the 2014 ozone season across Texas. Despite the nicer weather, DFW still had almost twice as many readings above 75 ppb as Houston and four above the 85 ppb standard. Houston had no readings above 85. In fact, San Antonio was the only other city to record a level so high – once.

2014 ozone resultsDFW still has a smog problem and all it takes is another hot and dry summer to see it escalate. We need the help more controls on major sources could give us. We need Selective Catalytic Reduction on ALL the Midlothian cement and East Texas coal plants. We need electrification of gas compressors in the Barnett Shale. This should be the message to both the TCEQ and EPA during the public hearing in January.

DFW smog in 2014: we've met the Clinton era standard for now, on the way to trying to get "close enough" to the W Standard, and still very far from a new Obama standard. Don't hang up the gas mask yet.



Medical staff symbol(Mansfield)— A new group of Mansfield residents is sponsoring what’s believed to be the first DFW presentation by a medical doctor on the health effects of fracking as part of a campaign to re-write the city’s six-year old drilling ordinance they say no longer reflects the best science, or provides enough public protection.  

Mansfield Gas Well Awareness is hosting Dr. Anne Epstein, M.D. at the Mansfield Holiday Inn on October 29th beginning at 7 pm. Dr. Epstein is an internal medicine specialist who graduated from Baylor Medical School and sits on the Lubbock County Board of Health. She’s a member of the Board’s Oil and Gas Advisory Committee that recently voted to recommend setbacks of 1500 feet separating homes, workplaces, and schools from wells. Mansfield currently allows wells as close as 600 feet to residences, with post drilling development up to 100 feet.  

“Our 2008 ordinance was written before new scientific studies showing higher rates of birth defects and cancers among those living close to gas wells,” said Tamera Bounds, a member of MGWA. “Like Lubbock, Dallas and other Texas cities that have looked at those studies recently and adjusted their regulations, Mansfield must update its obsolete rules to better protect our families and property values.”

206 gas wells have been drilled in the city of 60,000 in the last six years with the potential to drill 300 more. That’s almost as many as Denton, with twice the population. Almost every Mansfield resident currently lives within a mile of one well or more. However, the Special Use Permits (SUPs) approved by the city expire after five years. SUPs for undrilled wells approved in 2008 and 2009 have already expired or will soon, and MGWA wants the city to take the opportunity to strengthen its drilling ordinance.

“We want to make sure our rules match the new science by allowing for bigger buffer zones, more air pollution controls and better monitoring and emergency response,” said Bounds. She citied 2008 correspondence from a gas well operator to the Mansfield Planning and Zoning Committee that claimed closer distances between schools and wells, as opposed to nursing homes, were justified because children are very mobile.”

“We need rules based on more than the industry’s estimate of how fast our children can run.”  

Among the recent studies cities by Bounds and scheduled to be reviewed by Dr. Epstein are those from the University of Colorado School of Public Health that trace close proximity to gas wells with higher rates of birth defects, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that discovered benzene and silica levels among workers at drilling sites that exceeded federal exposure limits. 

Bounds’ group is being assisted by DFW clean air group Downwinders at Risk, which was instrumental in getting a new Dallas gas ordinance passed in 2013.  Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck says he thinks the Mansfield effort marks a milestone in Tarrant County’s coping with the Barnett Shale drilling boom. “It’s a great example of residents in a city saturated with wells after the first wave of drilling trying to recover and catch up with the science before the next wave makes things a lot worse.” 

Schermbeck cautioned that the Mansfield group had an uphill climb considering its current council make-up.

At least two of Mansfield’s city council members are directly involved in the fracking business. Larry Broseh is the president of Drill King International, a manufacturer of drilling equipment, and Stephen Lindsey is Director of Government Affairs of Quicksilver Resources, a natural gas and oil exploration and production company.

Bounds said the group would ask those two council members to recuse themselves from the writing of a new ordinance because of their conflict of interests. “ This needs to be a citizen-driven process. It needs to be a science-driven process. The 2008 ordinance came directly from industry and hardly involved residents at all. This time, things need to be different.”

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Perry Mini mesWhen explaining how the powers of state government are distributed under the Texas Constitution, the emphasis is usually on how powerful the Lt. Governor is and how weak the Governor actually is – a leftover from the Confederate backlash to Reconstruction.

But that explanation usually assumes a traditional two-term governor, not one who takes up residency for 14 years.

In the past it was hard for any one Texas governor to put their personal stamp on so many state agencies so deeply because they were out after four to eight years and the terms of the appointments were staggered. Multi-member commissions were a mix of appointees from different administration, representing different government philosophies and parties. This made compromise a necessity.

And then came Rick Perry.

After 14 years, he's not only been able to appoint all the top level decision-makers in all of the state's various agencies and commissions, he's been able to go down two to three layers deep in each bureaucracy and make sure those mid-level officeholders reflect the same views.  Compromise is no longer necessary. Through this process, he's assembled more power than perhaps any other Texas governor in history.

Even if Wendy Davis were to win next month, it would take many years to replace Perry's choices for all of the state agencies that affect Texans on a daily basis. Some don't expire until 2019. And Davis would have to win approval for each appointment from what is shaping up to be the most business-friendly state senate Texas has seen since Spindletop.

Recently, the Austin American Statesman reviewed over 8,000 Perry appointments, and found:

Nearly 4 in 5 Perry appointees are white, even as the portion of whites in the state dropped from 55 percent in 2000 shortly before Bush left office to 44 percent in 2010. Overall, 77 percent of his appointees have been white, and 67 percent are male.

Perry has appointed 90 of his former employees to boards and commissions, placing trusted lieutenants in the upper echelons of government agencies. Twenty-three of those one-time governor’s office workers were given paid appointments.

Nearly a quarter of appointees are donors to Perry’s campaigns, together giving more than $20 million. That constitutes a fifth of all contributions he has received during his time as governor.

No agency reflects Perry's these trends more thoroughly than the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Zac Covar, white and male, was a Perry aide, who then became an assistant to the TCEQ Chairman appointed by Perry, who then became Executive Director of the TCEQ, who then became one of three Commissioners himself. He's also a fellow Aggie, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science from Texas A&M University, making him imminently qualified to help run the largest environmental agency in the free world outside of the EPA. His term expires next year.

Commissioner Toby Baker, white and male, was another Perry aide, and another fellow Aggie, with a degree in Public Administration. His term expires in 2017.

Chairman Bryan Shaw, white and male, is still another fellow poultry science degreed graduate of A&M, although you be hard-pressed to discover that in his official job description now days (two chicken scientists ruling the TCEQ coop seems to be an embarasment that even shames the Perryites). Since he was last appointed in 2013, his six-year term won't be up until 2019.

It's not only the top administrators at TCEQ who are full-fledged mini-mes  of Perry. It's also the agency's Chief Engineer Susana M. Hildebrand, who's been known to flat out lie to Legislative Committees about the inconvenient results of studies that don't reflect the hardcore pro-leave-industry-alone views of the Perry Administration. It's the TCEQ's Chief Toxicologist, Michael Honeycutt, who keeps insisting that smog really isn't that bad for you.  And on and on.

The result of all this political in-breeding is an agency which is the largest purveyor of junk science in the state, taking every industry-financed "study" and promoting it as if it were gospel, even if it's in the extreme minority of scientific opinion, while discounting the overwhelming collection of independent academic reviews that contradicts it. That's how you arrive at the point where the state's major environmental agency says there's no such thing as climate change, no harm in smog, and the continuing release of millions of tons toxins are no big deal. That's how a month before Holcim decides to install SCR at its Midlothian cement plant, a representative of TCEQ can say straight faced in an Arlington regional air quality meeting that the technology "isn't technically feasible."

This is why many of the state's citizen groups have given up on anything useful coming out of Austin for the foreseeable future. They've decided that If change is going to happen in Texas it'll be at the local level, where Rick Perry's fingerprints have not yet smudged all reconciliation with reality. And that's exactly why recent local expressions of people power, like the Dallas drilling ordinance and the Denton fracking ban vote are such a threat to an otherwise watertight hegemony emanating from the Governor's office.


Energy revolution fistMany of you are probably headed to the Sierra Club's Earth Wind and Fire energy get together this coming weekend in Addison. As a kind of primer on how greener, cleaner energy could flourish in the US and what it would mean to the way we produce, distribute, regulate and charge for power, you might want to check out this New York Times piece from earlier in the month on how Germany is turning the corner. 

Deutschland is close to getting 30% of its energy needs from renewable sources, by far the leader among heavily industrialized nations – America is currently achieving about half that. That's impressive, but by far the most interesting parts of the story is what kind of ripples in the marketplace a commitment to green power can produce once a government decides to make that commitment.

For example, it's in large part due to German demand for solar that the prices of Chinese solar panels have plummeted, making the choice cheaper for everyone else around the planet. Likewise, more off shore wind power is being built to correspond to the daylight hours when it's needed most by consumers and those prices are also coming down thanks to German leadership.

Especially noteworthy is the anxiousness of utility companies who see their old business plan of large, centralized power systems  evaporating with the rise of so many smaller, decentralized options. As the article states:

"A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Some experts say the electricity business is entering a period of turmoil beyond anything in its 130-year history, a disruption potentially as great as those that have remade the airlines, the music industry and the telephone business."

Among the strategies in play are "energy retainers" – regular payments to persuade utilities to keep some fossil-fuel power plants on standby for times when renewable sources lag. That's a complete upside down pyramid approach from previous years that saw those same older plants used as "base load" facilities with renewables supplementing them when necessary.

And while the sources of power are changing as a result of this energy revolution, so are the ways people use it. In Texas' deregulated electricity market, you're already seeing different pricing for different times of day so that consumers take better advantage of non-peak hours. Appliances like dishwashers and water heaters with "smart chips" in them could automatically take advantage of these differences and level out demand.

Check out the NYT piece and then, for a more radical American perspective on the German energy revolution and how it can be translated into action on this side of the Atlantic by the guy that invented the term "negawatts" read Amory Lovins' take. Lovins has been at the forefront of alternative energy since before the term was created and what were once thought to be fanciful flights of imagination on his part by the utility companies are the reality they're now having to deal with.


Montgomery Ward watermarkVia the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, it seems the city finally wised up and decided it was not a good match to have the most high-profile promoter of urban gas drilling in Cowtown be the spokesperson for a new "healthy lifestyle" initiative.

Last Friday, Healthways announced that former Chesapeake top executive and all-around shill for everything-is wonderful-about drilling, Julie Wilson, had resigned her post as VP for the Fort Worth Blue Zones Project that seeks to promote a dialog about healthier choices for residents. Unfortunately it arrives about eight years too late to initiate a discussion about the wisdom of putting large toxic air polluters next to homes, schools, and parks.

Wilson's appointment to the Zones Project had raised eyebrows and objections even among a mostly quiescent Fort Worth population that had been among the first victims of the fracking boom in the late "Oughts." As in, we ought to have thought about this some more. Blue Zones got sizable blowback over her hiring, and it followed them wherever they showed up for one of their many community meetings, making for uncomfortable distractions to their more mainstream agenda concerning people's smoking, eating and exercise habits.

Wilson's resignation is one more sign of how far Chesapeake's star has fallen in Fort Worth. It's former corporate headquarters on the banks of the Trinity is now owned by Pier 1. Most of its Barnett Shale holdings have been auctioned off for needed cash. Aubrey McClendon, its founder and CEO had to resign last year after a stock scandal. The city and other entities are suing the company for royalties they think they were cheated.

But like the high-watermark from the 1949 flood that lasted for decades on the old Montgomery Wards' warehouse on 7th street, the pollution from its former facilities and stains on Ft. Worth's civic infrastructure from Chesapeake's invasion remain to remind everyone just how badly Fort Worth was rolled by the company.


SCR as holy-grail(Midlothian) After a 14-year effort by local citizens, Holcim US Inc. is applying for a permit to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to install a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit in their Midlothian facility. It's the first application for commercial use of SCR technology in any U.S. cement kiln. 


DFW-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk has been advocating the use of SCR in the three Midlothian cement plants located just south of I-20 since 2000, when a German cement kiln first operated the technology successfully.  


Together, the TXI, Ash Grove, and Holcim plants represent the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the country and are a major contributor to DFW's historic smog problem.


"We need this pollution control technology in North Texas, and we're pleased to see Holcim's application," said Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck. "But we wish residents could enjoy its results sooner than Holcim intends."

The SCR unit is planned for Holcim's idle Kiln #2 while a more common Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer will be built for its operating Kiln #1. Both technologies are being installed to meet new EPA emission standards for hydrocarbon pollution from cement plants. Those standards themselves were championed by Downwinders and other  citizen groups in 2009, with over 200 people showing up at an EPA hearing the the DFW Airport Hotel to support them. 


The deadline for compliance with the new standards is September 2016. However, restarting of Kiln #2, and the introduction of SCR in Midlothian, is dependent on local demand for Holcim's cement, which is still recovering from weak demand during the recession. That lack of demand could delay the technology's inauguration until after 2016.


Nevertheless, according to Schermbeck, Holcim's application for a permit to install SCR makes it's more likely that all of the Midlothian cement plants, and others in EPA "non-attainment areas" for smog pollution around the country, will be adopting it sooner rather than later.


"Holcim's application sets a precedent that's hard to ignore by regulators in Austin and Washington. For the first time a US cement plant has expressed enough confidence in SCR to make it a technically and economically-viable choice for pollution control. There's no going back."


SCR is widely considered to be the most advanced form of pollution control for cement manufacturing, capable of reducing smog-forming pollution by 90% or more, along with significant reductions in Particulate Matter, metals, and Dioxins.


Although about half a dozen European cement kilns are successfully operating the technology, U.S. plants have refused to endorse it. Two EPA-sponsored pilot tests of SCR are being conducted at Indiana and Illinois cement kilns as part of court-ordered settlements. Holcim's application for its Midlothian kiln is the first time and American cement plant is voluntarily approving SCR use.


Although it's not coming in time to impact the current DFW clean air plan, due to go to public hearing in January of next year, Holcim's application will put SCR on the agenda for the next such plan.  


Just two weeks ago, EPA staff recommended a new ozone, or smog, standard of between 60 and 70 parts per billion over an eight hour period versus the current limit of 75 ppb. Adoption of a stricter standard is expected to occur by late next year, meaning a plan to meet that standard will be gearing up sometime in the next three to five years. By that time, Holcim's SCR unit should have a track record that can be cited as a reason for all the Midlothian cement plants to use it.


Schermbeck noted that just last month representatives of the TCEQ told a regional air quality meeting in Arlington that SCR was neither an economical nor technically feasible pollution control option for the Midlothian cement plants. He said Holcim's application belies that claim.


A public meeting on the Holcim permit application is being scheduled for early November. 


Arrival of SCR on the scene marks the latest and the most dramatic milestone in the transformation of the local cement industry since Downwinders at Risk was founded 20 years ago to stop the burning of hazardous wastes in the Midlothian kilns.


After a 14-year battle, TXI halted its hazardous waste-burning operations in 2008. Downwinders then pursued a six-year "green cement" campaign to replace all seven obsolete and dirtier wet kilns with newer "dry kiln" technology. That campaign ended in 2012 with the announcement that Ash Grove would shutter its three wet kilns and build a new dry kiln in their place. That plant is due to go on line this year.


Adoption of SCR remained a goal of the group through four different DFW clean air plans going all the way back to 2000. Schermbeck said his group made incremental progress each time, winning small and large battles that directly lead to today's news.


"Holcim's application for SCR is the latest testament to the persistence and focus of a small group of committed citizens who have pulled and pushed the U.S. cement industry into the 21st Century one step at a time."


Conference logoOrganizers are giving you until tomorrow, September 12th to early register for the largest citizen-organized energy conference DFW has ever hosted, the Sierra Club's Earth, Wind and Fire Energy Summit scheduled for October the 4th and 5th. Topics cover the spectrum, from wind and solar to fracking and waste-to-energy boondoogles. At- the-door registration is $25 more than the $55 you pay by signing up now, so save yourself some money.


jonah-gas-field-in-wyoming-flickr-SkyTruth-466pxA second member of the Texas Railroad Commission has accused US fracking opponents of being financed by Russian gas interests. That makes two out of three. Your immediate reaction may be: "Oh yeah, Where's my check?" But Davis Porter is serious, and in making the charge, Porter is walking a fine line in seriously slandering Josh Fox and others with his reckless accusation, which has everything it needs except, you know, proof.

Porter made the claim in a snappy press release entitled “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy,” that jumps from the fact that the Russian gas giant Gazprom has hired a US public relations company to try and soften the impacts of sanctions over the Ukraine crisis into a dark and secret conspiracy to promote home grown fracking opposition. Believing this story would first require the laughable leap of faith that the PR firm's go-to Gazprom lobbyists, former GOP Senate hardliner Trent Lott (R- Mississippi) and Blue Dog Democrat John Breaux (D – Louisiana), are turning their backs on big business in their own states and hanging out with the cast of Gasland. Not bloody likely.

But that's not stopping Porter. In his press release he says the Russians are using the PR partnership not to get out from under pressing US sanctions for their illegal invasion of another country, but "to spread unsupported propaganda about the environmental and health risks of the practice of fracking."

Citing a dire warning he's already sent via a very serious letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Porter reveals that Moscow's "apparent strategy includes funding anti-hydraulic fracturing environmental organizations, placing misinformation in the public, and even mass media propaganda — namely their assistance with the distribution of Gasland, an incredibly deceitful film about hydraulic fracturing in America."

Porter uses wire reports about the PR firm's hiring to make explicit what RRC Commissioner Barry Smitherman only artfully hinted at in his letter to the marathon Denton City Council meeting in July over the debate on a fracking ban in that city – that US anti-fracking activists are being financed by the Russkies.

There's only one problem, none of the news reports about the hiring of the PR firm has mentioned fracking, even in passing. Even in footnotes.

To make that strained connection, Porter relies on an undated piece by one Keith C Smith who was with a think tank outfit called the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Smith cites nefarious Russian influence in Bulgaria's decision to ban fracking and German business ties to Russian gas to suggest that there's a master plan to leave Russia as the sole provider of natural gas to Europe and freeze out US imports. 

Will you be at all surprised to learn that Mr. Smith has been "a consultant to several energy companies?"

To its credit, the Texas Tribune, which broke the story, asked Porter for specific examples showing Gazprom was funding anti-fracking efforts in America.  Porter’s spokeswoman Mary Bell said in an email: There are multiple news reports citing Gazprom's influence and efforts in the EU and the US. Some are linked in the letter.” She means the Smith article, which shows absolutely no influence on US anti-fracking activities, and the news reports about the recent hiring of the PR firm to help the Russians avoid sanctions, but mentions nothing about fracking.

See how that works? First, we have a piece by an energy company consultant that says he strongly suspects Russian influence in the Bulgarian fracking ban, but can't prove it. Next, Gazprom hires a PR firm to avoid the repercussions of sanctions over the Ukraine invasion. Ergo, Russia's "influence and efforts in the EU and US" are plain as day.   

When he was asked by the Tribune as to Russian influence in Denton's fracking vote, Porter spokeswoman Bell said that “the commissioner's comments are not specific to Denton,” but “Gazprom is spending tens of millions of dollars — that we know of — to eliminate competition globally. It's likely they've influenced much of the anti-hydraulic fracturing movement's message.”

Students of history know this is exactly how McCarthyism works – by innuendo instead of fact. Indeed, the Wikipedia definition of McCarthyism is "the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence." It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism."

Commissioner, have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?


fracking workers 1On Labor Day we wrote about the fact that workers employed by polluters are often as much at risk from exposure to the polluters' poisons as near-by homeowners. A new peer-reviewed study of six fracking sites in Colorado and Wyoming published by the National Institute of Occupational Heath and Safety (NIOSH) is fresh proof of this, showing 15 of 17 tests for Benzene exposure among workers who were monitoring on-site fracking well "flowback" exceeded the federal eight-hour exposure limit.

The study looked at drill site workers who use a gauge to measure the amount of "flowback" water that returns after a frack job is initiated. Flowback is the regurgitation of the fracking fluids from the well itself. It's collected on the surface after hydraulic fracturing is completed.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that's routinely present in fracking flowback water. It’s the same poison found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and a lot of chemical manufacturing and refining. It's been directly linked or associated with leukemia and other conditions, such as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDL), Myelofibrosis and Myeloid Metaplasia, Aplastic Anemia and Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

NIOSH found "airborne concentrations of hydrocarbons, in general, and benzene, specifically, varied considerably during flowback and can be unpredictable, indicating that a conservative approach to protecting workers from exposure is warranted. Hydrocarbon emissions during flowback operations also showed the potential to generate flammable and explosive concentrations depending on time and where measurements were made, and the volume of hydrocarbon emissions produced.”
These weren't just the results of real time air monitoring at the fracking sites. Urine samples of the workers were also taken, making the connection between exposure and absorption into the body.
Although he wasn't an author, Dr. Bernard Goldstein from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health says the study shows, "These workers are at higher risk for leukemia. The longer, the more frequently they do this, the more likely they are to get leukemia particularly if the levels are high.”
And some of the test results were indeed very high. Results show levels reaching 200 parts per million over a 15-minute period. The federal limit is 1 ppm. But reader, will it come as any great surprise that fracking is exempt from that federal standard? We didn't think so.
NIOSH says their results can't be used to draw any conclusions about exposures to nearby residents, but looking at the data Goldstein says it certainly suggests there's a danger. "Results from this worker study shows that there could be potential risks to residents as well."
Barnett Shale residents know this. In 2009, the much maligned, but TCEQ-approved "Ft. Worth Study" found downwind Benzene levels at one well at 150 ppm and 110 ppm at a compressor station.  But that was an exception. There's no real time monitoring of oil and gas facilities for Benzene or any other poison they might be emitting, so there's no way to tell what's being released or at what levels.  It's all based on estimates provided by the frackers themselves, and then approved by the government arm of industry in Texas – the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
According to Goldstein, We’re not acting in a way to protect the public who are at high risk. And we can’t even tell you who is at high risk. Yet we’re rushing ahead in a situation where all of the data are telling us that there are risks.”
NIOSH representatives said studies with larger sample sizes should be done as a follow-up but none are scheduled at this point. They also listed a number of recommendations to take to reduce benzene levels on the job site, including changing tank gauging procedures, training workers, limiting exposure times, carrying gas monitors, using respiratory and hand protection, and monitoring exposure levels. But when you're exempt from the standard you're accused of violating, what's the incentive to comply with these measures?
And any way, that all depends on voluntary compliance and adherence in the field. As every downwinder knows, there's the way industry is supposed to operate, and the way it actually operates. Too often even when there's known dangers involved, time and money pressures, lack of education or training, or outright neglect and abuse override theory.  That's why it's necessary for citizens to do the job of monitoring and reporting themselves. Environmental protection is a do-it-yourself job – and that goes for workers as well as downwinders.

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David-Vs-GoliathIn a 2009 magazine essay that's become a standard hand-out of ours, author Malcolm Gladwell examines everything from a full-court press in girl's basketball to the military tactics used by Lawrence of Arabia in identifying the qualities that make successful underdogs.

They don't play by their opponents' rules.
They're opportunistic.
They're relentless.

Time and again, he finds that determination trumps everything else.

 Downwinders at Risk is one of the best examples of this formula.

There are larger environmental groups. There are groups with more expertise. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a more determined group than Downwinders at Risk. Why? Focus and persistence.

Focus, because we concentrate on local air pollution issues and nothing else.

Persistence, because we never give up, even if it takes years to win the fight. 

Despite a hostile Governor, unfriendly state agencies, and industry opposition, Downwinders has won huge, unprecedented victories for cleaner air in North Texas using not much else than its own sweat equity and the organized energy of local DFW residents like yourself.

But even the most determined insurgents need money.

Giving Day large










Once a year in September, Dallas-based Communities Foundation of Texas hosts a regional "Giving Day" for all DFW non-profits, when online donations of $25 or more can be matched or multiplied by the Foundation itself or other donors. Your online contribution actually helps us grow more money for the cause.

This year's Giving Day is Thursday, September 18th, 6 am to 12 Midnight.

Downwinders is using this 2014 Giving Day to try and raise $7500 – enough to pay for staff work for three months.

That's couch change to most groups, but it's 90 days of determined and focused work for us – and your lungs.

How you can help:

On September 18th, just go online to northtexasgivingday.org click the "Environment" category on the right hand side of the page and find our familiar child and inhaler logo:

Smaller Daniel pict




Click on it and donate $25 or more.

That's all there is to it. It's easy and it'll make a huge difference to us. You can follow our progress on the 18th on our FaceBook page.

Why you should help:

We're organizing resistance to another state "do-nothing" clean air plan that will continue to keep DFW the "Dirty Air Capitol of Texas."

We're pressing for the Midlothian cement plants to install state-of-the art pollution controls that are already in place in Europe.

We're making fracking a regional air quality issue, fighting to bring new studies and controls to the attention of the media and officials.

We're exporting the new, citizen-driven and more protective "Dallas Model" to replace the obsolete, industry-based Fort Worth Model" of gas drilling regulations.

We're speaking out against the City of Frisco's plan to leave 50 years of Exide lead smelter waste in the middle of town rather than hauling it off to a proper hazardous waste disposal site. 

Thanks for your support and consideration.                                            


Union LabelThere's one population of victims of industrial pollution that often has it even worse than those who live downwind: those that work within.

Groups like ours make it their business to represent the interests of "frontline" residents who live adjacent to, or in close proximity of, places that routinely release crap in the air that affects their health and well-being. Collective action is promoted as a way to address that situation and, in our experience, it works more often than not. At its essence then, Downwinders is a kind of union of pollution victims.

Local residents who decide to step out of line and speak out against the facility's pollution are often ridiculed, threatened, and ostracized. Especially in small towns where the facility is among the largest employers or taxpayers. Because of the interconnections and economic ripple effect of such facilities, some activists get warned about losing their jobs even though they may not work for the offending company itself.

Imagine then the pressure on workers inside the facility whose very livelihood rests on their silent consent.  Despite a constant stream of studies showing exposure levels for employees of polluters at many times the levels of those outside company property, they have no collective means to help them relieve their condition. Except for unions. Which means in Texas, they usually don't have any recourse at all.

Lack of union representation for these workers not only diminishes their job security, it means they're much less likely to be willing or able to help those outside the fence line who are also being shat-on. They're on their own, with no organizational backing. They have no access to collective action. In many ways they're less powerful and have fewer options than those getting doused in their own homes across the street from the company. Sometimes they ARE the people in those homes and get it coming and going.

When there's no union, there's much less chance of any kind of meaningful dialog between activists and workers, even though they may share the same concerns and be affected by the same pollution. There's one less ally for activists to recruit in seeking more effective pollution controls or cleaning-up a site. The flow of information about what's really going on inside the facility is circumscribed. Industrial polluters stand a better chance of holding out against change if they can keep those on either side of the fence line from joining forces.

On the other hand, some of the most effective pollution control measures among Texas Gulf Coast refineries and chemical plants are the result of strong unions with the ability to collectively bargain for change. In countries with a longer and stronger union movement, it's the "Labor Party" that usually voices the loudest support for environmental progress.

Unions aren't perfect. They can become as bloated and neglectful as any corporation. They can stifle progress by parroting the wrong-headed notion that less pollution means less jobs. But they're the only counterweight to corporate power within the facility because they can affect the bottom line with a slow down or strike – more potential power than activists often have after years of organizing. If you're an environmental activist, it's in your own self-interest to promote unions.

Likewise, if you're a union representing workers who are getting poisoned, it's in your own self interests to put pressure on the company or industry to clean-up its act by working with environmentalists who can exert their own kind of pressure for action. 

That recognition of mutual self-interest is the driving force behind such efforts at the Blue-Green Alliance that merges unions like the Steelworkers, UAW, CWA, and SEIU with the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and, appropriately enough, the Union of Concerned Scientists, into a broader coalition working for climate change action. By working together, they can anticipate and head-off the sudden jerks of unemployment that would happen as we transition off of fossil fuels to a greener economy. 

Imagine how much fertile ground could be plowed in discussions between the grunts at drilling sites and the people who live next door if there was a union of such workers that was as concerned about the health of their  members as residents were about the health of their children.

There's a long proud history of unions lending their power to social causes beyond the factory gates. Many were important in bringing the civil rights movement out of the South and making it a nationwide litmus test for elected officials. But that was when there was still a strong labor movement in the US; when the president of the UAW or Mineworkers Union were regular White House visitors, no matter which party was in power.

In Texas, a "right to work" state, unions often have the stigma of Leper colonies. They're used as political fodder for Republican candidates swearing they're the first step toward socialism, while being held as arm's length by Democrats for fear of being tainted with a "pro-union" label. Texas environmentalists are in a position to demand better.

Thirty years ago the observation was made that a conservative was just a liberal who'd been mugged. These days in Texas, thanks to fracking, an environmentalist is often as not a conservative who's been gassed. Many of those most affected by the oil and gas industry in North Texas and elsewhere are "dittohead" true believers, but also feel portrayed by officials who have traded their conservative credentials for campaign donations.

After a certain amount of abuse it's not hard for these right wingers to realize that they must organize themselves into collective action on behalf of their communities if they want to keep from being completely run over by companies that don't give a damn. Is it really that far a leap in logic to believe the same principle is true for workers who feel just as disposable to the same company?

Those that come to environmentalism through their own liberal values must reach out and make unions a part of the natural landscape. Just as Greens need to adapt by becoming more racially and economically diverse, so we must become more insistent that unions are an integral part of the change we're seeking. They can make our job a lot easier.


Hydrogen Sulfide signAccording to a state-sponsored study through the University of Maryland's School of Public Health, "air emissions trump water pollution and drilling-induced earthquakes as a top public health threat posed by future fracking projects in Maryland."

For the better part of a year, faculty surveyed previous research between the gas industry and health effects. They looked at all the possible "exposure pathways" for toxins to reach surrounding populations from gas rigs and facilities and ranked each of the threats. Air quality got a "high" threat ranking, whereas water pollution ranked "moderately high" threat and earthquakes "low."

Dr. Donald Milton, Director of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and a UMD professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and medicine was the study's lead investigator and concluded,

"….existing data show a clear trend: oil and gas activity can spew significant levels of toxic chemicals into the air—and that pollution consistently makes people sick.

"We think [the state] should pay a lot of attention to air pollution," said Milton.  Although water pollution is also a concern, Milton told InsideClimate News that there's not enough data on how likely dirty water is to sicken people, nor how strong those health effects would be."

Because most of the reviewed data in the study comes from gas plays that have received a lot of attention over the last couple of years – the Barnett and Eagle Ford in Texas, the Marcellus in Pennsylvania, and the Bakken in North Dakota – Maryland's environmental and public health officials were quick to offer a joint damning disclaimer: "We believe it is important to note that it is largely based on information on natural gas development in areas where the pace of gas development was rapid and intense and without stringent regulations and government oversight." Well yeah, but if our own officials weren't so negligent you wouldn't have the benefit of now learning from our bad examples.

The study was part of a 2011 executive order signed by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley that outlined a state approach to dealing with potential fracking in the state's western corner, where the Marcellus extends across the Pennsylvania line.

Besides identifying air pollution exposure as a major threat, the study also offered specific recommendations to combat that exposure, including:

– a 2000-foot setback from urban neighborhoods (Dallas and Southlake both have 1500-foot setback provisions)

– baseline air quality monitoring before any drilling or production begins

– constant air monitoring when activity on the site begins

– transparency in the information about the facility.

As the Inside Climate article on the study notes, its conclusions "stand in stark contrast to public concern in heavy-drilling states such as Maryland's neighbor Pennsylvania. Those concerns have tended to focus on tainted water, not air."

Indeed. It's a lot easier to make a fire-breathing water hose into a drive-by YouTube meme than a family gasping for air that won't make them sick. But for most neighbors of urban gas drilling, water quality isn't even on the radar screen because they're getting their H2O from a city pipe running from a lake, not a well. On the other hand, they're directly breathing in the mix of chemicals and pollution coming off the site itself, making their home a frontline toxic hot spot. That site's plume is then combining with hundreds or even thousands of other plumes from similar sites close-by to decrease regional air quality. That air pollution can end-up affecting thousands or millions of residents who don't even live in close proximity to a rig or compressor.

In the most successful "nuisance" court cases against gas operators in the Barnett Shale over the last year or so, air pollution has been the villain keeping families from enjoying their property and running up their medical bills.  You can get water trucked in, but it's very hard to do the same with air.

Public comment on the report is open until October 3rd.


Green KlanThere's an old joke that the best place to find black or brown people in the environmental movement is in grant proposals. Every group uses the well-known and terrible demographic facts of environmental justice to justify their own programming, but almost none of that programming directly involves the subject of those terrible demographics.

It didn't get much press, but a new University of Michigan study of a broad array of organizations doing environmental work showed that while black and brown citizens represent nearly 40 percent of Americans, they account for fewer than 16 percent of the employees in those organizations – and that's counting state and federal agencies. Private groups and foundations fare even worse – only 12% of their numbers are people of color. On any given day, the Ferguson Missouri police department and your local environmental group look about the same.

According to the study's author, Dorceta Taylor, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan "an 'unconscious bias' exists within the liberal and progressive culture of the groups, preserving a racially homogenous workplace. Recruitment for new staff frequently occurs through word-of-mouth and informal networks. This makes it difficult for ethnic minorities, the working class, or anyone outside of traditional environmental networks to find out about job openings and apply for those jobs.”

In its coverage, the Washington Post, says the report shows the existence of "…two environmental movements. One is white and the other non-white, one rich and the other poor, one devoted largely to advocating on behalf of wilderness areas and the other for “environmental justice” in core urban areas where minorities tend to live."  That divide is far more prevalent among the larger, well financed groups that can afford to even hire staff than it is at the grassroots level where all groups struggle and there's less emphasis on wilderness issues. Nevertheless, the divide is there and it's making environmentalism a political side show instead of a a major stage event.

Most of the time, people are motivated by self-interest. When a huge and growing segment of the country's population doesn't see a self-interest in having safe water and air or open spaces, these things become less and less important to a national agenda.  And yet, those demographic facts don't lie. Black and brown asthma rates are far above whites. Most polluting industries locate in places that can't fight back. Just as there's a huge imbalance at the top in terms of leadership, so there's also a huge imbalance of who's at risk on the bottom rungs. People of color ignore the environmental agenda at their own risk. But environmental groups that ignore people of color do so at their own risk as well. In another generation, they'll be as relevant as Civil War re-enactors.

We all have to do a better job of connecting the dots, Downwinders included. Right now, we have exactly one person of color on our board and none on staff. Good intentions matter, but they don't matter enough to be used as excuses. Those of us doing the front line work must find the time to widen our ranks or we'll find ourselves without ranks at all. 


mad kidDallas Resident Liz Alexander showed up at the Council of Governments meeting room on Tuesday to lend her support to the effort to get more out of an anemic state ant-smog plan than the state wants to give. She was a warm body whose presence would be its own statement of concern. She was being a good trooper by just showing up.

At first she sat far from the action amidst the rows of seats for bystanders and, despite encouragement, was resigned to just listening, because as she explained, "she didn't know enough to ask questions."

Then someone urged her to move up to the rectangle of tables where the presenters stand and deliver, where there are microphones to raise the volume of concerns and questions that might be posed by mind-numbing reassurances that everything is going hunky-dory. As more of these air quality meetings have occurred, citizens have been less and less shy about taking up these front row seats that look more official than the rest; look like they should be reserved for guys in suits. Increasingly they're occupied by people in street clothes.

And then, after much information had been paraded in front of Liz, she did something she did not think she was qualified to do only about 90 minutes earlier. She asked a question. It was about what assumptions had been included in the information about unspent air pollution clean-up dollars that are piling up in Austin. She got an answer from a local COG staff person in real time that satisfied her. In the space of one meeting she moved from spectator to participant.

And she wasn't the only one. More than any other meeting so far, this one involved more citizens asking more questions about more subjects – and it revealed just how thin the state's rationale is for doing nothing.

As predicted, it was a day for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to explain why its new DFW anti-smog plan was really going to work this time – unlike the five previous failures – and why it wasn't going to be considering any new controls on the Midlothian cement plants or on gas compressors – a refutation of the case Downwinders at Risk had made in its June 16th presentation.

But here's what really happened: For the first time in these proceedings the state admitted that oil and gas emissions have a big influence on regional air quality. And when a former County Judge asked an TCEQ's Air Quality Manager specifically why anti-smog controls already being used on cement kilns in Europe were not being considered for the Midlothian kilns, the staffer couldn't say, offering up only the longest, most pregnant pause by any state staffer in the history of these meetings.

After being heavily criticized for months for leaving at least four monitors above the 75 ppb federal smog standard even after its plan had ended in 2018, the state came back to this meeting saying they only had three sites above 75 ppb now, and by margins that didn't exceed the standard by more than 1 part per billion. Between June and August, there had been a remarkable drop in future estimated smog levels at the area's monitoring sties in the state's computer modeling – particularly at the historically most stubborn monitoring sites in Denton and Northwest Tarrant County.

What had caused this drop? A relatively modest decrease in Nitrogen Oxide pollution of around seven tons a day and a decrease in Volatile Organic Compounds of about 15 tons per day. That's not a lot of pollution to produce such a large decrease in monitor readings in the computer model.

A more important question is: where did the decreases in air pollution come from that could produce such dramatic results in the modeling? The answer: primarily from oil and gas industry sources. Based on TCEQ's own formula relying on the declining number of new wells being drilled in the Barnett Shale. 

For the moment forget the methodological qualms you might have about that declining well assumption. Instead, appreciate the fact that the same state agency that couldn't bring itself to ever say the Barnett Shale was producing air pollution holding DFW back from meeting Clean Air Act smog standards now says that it's decreases in that very kind of pollution that are having such a substantial effect on the monitors in the western part of the Metromess that have been the most resistant to other control strategies. TCEQ has just proven a causal link its been denying for over seven years now.

It can't be just a one-way street. If declining oil and gas air pollution equals better air quality in the TCEQ's computer model, so increases in oil and gas pollution must lead to worse air quality.

There are all kinds of reasons to doubt that the drop in total oil and gas air pollution will happen at all or drop as fast or as sharply as the TCEQ predicts. Afterall, they're 0 for 5 in such matters. They may be underestimating the amount of total air pollution from all gas and oil sources and so the drop will not be as sharp. They may be underestimating the impact of lots of new lift compressors that will be showing up to squeeze the last bits of gas from older wells even as new wells are not drilled as often. But as of Tuesday the link has been made by TCEQ itself that such a drop results in big decreases in smog levels in Denton and Northwest Tarrant County. That's something that citizens can use to argue as proof of the impact of oil and gas facilities on local air quality.

Of course, it only took the span of about 30 minutes for the TCEQ to internally contradict itself about those results.

According to TCEQ computer modelers, natural gas Compressor Stations large enough to be considered "point sources" just like cement kilns or power plants will be responsible for over 17 tons of Nitrogen Oxides, and 26 tons of VOCs a day in 2018 – well over the amount of oil and gas pollution decreases that resulted in those lower monitoring numbers in Denton and NW Tarrant County. But according to the TCEQ staff responsible for suggesting new controls in the new smog plan, those numbers are not large enough to have an impact on improving DFW air quality or warranting a policy of electrification for those compressors that could reduce their air pollution to a fraction of those volumes.

So while 7 tons of NOx reduction from Oil and Gas sources is large enough to bring some of the most stubborn monitors down a whole part per billion, reducing air pollution from Oil and Gas sources by another 17 tons of NOx reduction would have no effect on DFW air quality at all and it's just not worth it to make them electrify compressors. Honest, that was the logic in play on Monday, and it didn't hold up very well under questions from people like Liz Alexander.

And that was all before you got to why the Midlothian cement kilns could not, no way, no how, possibly, under any circumstance, be required to install Selective Catalytic Reduction controls, just like their European counterparts have done over the last 15 years.

Turns out, it's just because.

Oh, the TCEQ staffer cited four criteria for any new control measure to meet before it could be considered. Let's see, there was "technological feasibility." Since there are at least seven full-scale SCR units up and running in Europe, that couldn't be a problem. It's accepted technology by some of the same companies operating kilns in the US – including LaFarge-Holcim.

There was "economic feasibility." And since there are all those SCR examples already in the European market and no company has gone bankrupt running them, that's also off the table. Plus the fact that the TCEQ's own 2005 study of SCR concluded it was "available technology" then that would only cost $1000 to $3,000 per ton of NOx removed – versus the up to $15,000 per ton of NOx removed ratio allowed in the state's own official diesel engine replacement program. Coming in at one-fifth the cost of what the state already said was economically feasible, it certainly ruled out that one.

There was the third criterion – that controls couldn't cause ‘‘substantial widespread and long-term adverse impacts.’’ The state said that wasn't the reason they couldn't be considered either, although the TCEQ staffers seemed to hedge a bit here, seemingly wanting to say that, really, they didn't want to cause themselves adverse impact by admitting that they had been wrong for over a decade about this stuff.

The proposed control cannot be ‘‘absurd, unenforceable, or impracticable.’’ Clearly, if the Europeans are doing it on their kilns, it's none of those either. It's quantifiable, and up and running in power plants, cement kilns and incinerators.

And it has to speed the attainment deadline by a year. No problem. SCR could do that if it was installed in a timely fashion.

So at the end of the state's presentation, former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher asked the TCEQ staffer exactly why SCR wasn't considered a possible pollution control measure since none of these criteria that had been presented seem to rule it out. And the TCEQ's staffer's response was…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

No, really, that was the response. She couldn't say. It was that embarrassing. Because the rejection of SCR by TCEQ isn't based on any of those criteria. It's based on a political decision that's been made that no new pollution controls will be sought on the kilns or any other major industrial polluter as long as Rick Perry is running for President. Or "just because."

How ridiculous is this? At this point the TCEQ is taking an even more regressive view of SCR controls than the cement industry itself. In June, Holcim Cement's Midlothian plant requested a permit from the state that would allow it to build either a Thermal Oxidizer or an SCR until for the control of VOC pollution. Being the free market fanatics the Perry Administration claims to be, doesn't the fact that one of the Midlothian cement plants is asking for a permit that includes the possibility of installing SCR mean it's automatically technologically and economically feasible? The market is never wrong, right? Are the folks at Holcim so enamored of kinky, off-the-wall green technology that they'll just include it in a permit for laughs? These guys are Swiss engineers. They have no sense of humor.

Denial of SCR as a viable control measure that could reduce smog pollution is making the TCEQ contort into sillier and sillier positions. It's making them deny the conclusions of their own almost-decade old report that said it was available to put in a kiln in 2005. It's making them deny the fact that SCR is up and running at over half a dozen kilns in Europe. It's forcing them to once again use the "Midlothian limestone is magically special" defense that has been used to forestall any progress in pollution control there over the last 25 years. The arguments used against SCR are exactly the same as were used against the adoption of less effective SNCR technology before it was mandated. In case you hadn't noticed, they're still making cement in Midlothian despite the burden of having to nominally control their air pollution.

The state wants to power through this anti-smog plan just like they did the last one in 2011. They don't want to have to make industry do anything. But at this point the denial of SCR as a control measure to be included in the next DFW anti-smog plan is so absurd, as is the justification for electrification of gas compressors, that it might be fodder in the next citizens lawsuit over a DFW anti-smog plan, which usually follows these things like mushrooms after a rainstorm. 

Want to get involved in this fight and make it more difficult for the state to get away with doing nothing at all about DFW smog – again? Please consider attending our next DFW Clean Air Network meeting - THIS SUNDAY, AUGUST 17th, from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm at the offices of the Texas Campaign for the Environment across from Lee Park in Dallas, 3303 Lee Pkwy, Suite #402 (214) 599-7840. Citizens are the only force that can make this plan better. Be there, or breathe bad air.

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Darth Vader in a suitRick Perry's minions at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) are drafting a new anti-smog plan for DFW this summer and fall. The only access DFW residents have to how it's being done and why are through periodical regional air quality meetings hosted by the Council of Governments in Arlington. At these meetings staff from TCEQ make presentations on why the air in DFW is getting so much better and why no new pollution control measures are needed to reach smog standards required by the Clean Air Act – despite the fact that the state is 0 for 5 in plans to attain compliance with those standards. In fact, the last such plan from Austin actually resulted in slightly higher levels of smog.

Tomorrow, Tuesday August 12th there will be another such regional air quality meeting. It's going on from 10 am to 12 noon at the Council of Government headquarters in Arlington at 616 Six Flags Road, right across from the amusement park (insert your own joke here). Of course, it's during business hours – you didn't think they're going to make it easy for the public to attend, did you?

Despite that, beginning in April more and more local residents have been showing up at these meetings to express their concern at the lack of progress in bringing safe and legal air to DFW. One of the reasons is that these meetings are the only forum available to citizens to question TCEQ staff in person – and then ask follow-up questions if you don't like the first answer. It's their only opportunity to be a kind of clean air Perry Mason and because it's a public meeting and everyone's looking at them, TCEQ staff have to at least make an attempt to answer those questions. 

Things reached a high point at the last meeting in June when Downwinders and the Sierra Club were allowed to make their own presentations about why the state is falling down on its job. A roomful of concerned citizens and elected officials saw the case against the state was self-evident – all we had to do was quote from its own past press releases and memos to make our point.

Tomorrow's meeting is the first chance the state will have to give a rebuttal to those citizen group presentations. Staff will present all the reasons why we don't need new air pollution controls on the Midlothian cement plants, the gas industry, or the East Texas coal plants, and why another do-nothing anti-smog plan from Austin will be just dandy.

And so, if between inhaler bursts you ever wanted to quiz officials about Rick Perry's air pollution strategies, tomorrow's meeting is going to be your chance.

You may think you're not qualified, but you'd be wrong. Simple common sense questions are often the hardest ones for the TCEQ staff to answer, because you know, they're based on common sense, and so many of their policies aren't.

This is how citizens uncovered the fact that TCEQ was hiding oil and gas pollution in other categories not named oil and gas. This is how we got the TCEQ to release maps of where all the gas industry compressors in DFW are after first explaining there were no such maps. And so on.

All that you need is a curious mind. They're not prepared for those.

Tomorrow, 10 to 12 noon is your opportunity to show your concern about breathing bad air, your desire to see major industrial sources of pollution better controlled, and why you want these anti-smog plans to do more. Be there or keep breathing bad air.


1_DFW_Compressors_Point 2.0 sm2_DFW_Wells_Oil_Gas3_DFW_Compressors_WellsThese are maps that supposedly weren't available…until they were.

From January all the way through June, citizens involved in watch-dogging the state's drafting of an anti-smog plan for North Texas had been asking if the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had maps of the locations of all the gas compressors in the 10-county DFW "non-attainment" area for ozone.

The answer from the state, over the course of at least three regional air quality meetings in Arlington, was always no.

Then State Representative Lon Burnam asked the same question, officially, in a letter to TCEQ. About two weeks ago, he got these three maps in the mail. Thanks to Representative Burnam for his follow-though.

This dodge followed an attempt by the state to hide the emissions from these compressors in other categories besides "Oil and Gas" in an attempt to minimize the industry's air pollution impacts on DFW air quality.

You can understand why TCEQ wasn't eager to show these maps.

The first shows the location of 647 large gas compressors. The volume of air pollution from  each of these compressors is so large that they're considered "point sources" like power plants, cement plants, manufacturing plants, etc. According to the TCEQ, these larger compressors will be emitting over 14 tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution PER DAY by 2018.

The second shows the approximate location of the thousands of smaller, "area sources" compressors. TCEQ doesn't really know how many of these there actually are – they've never counted and no inventory by industry is required.

Instead, the state bases the number and approximate location of these smaller compressors on the production rates of gas in the Barnett Shale, as reported by the Railroad Commission, and disperses them accordingly.

There's some question about whether this is the most accurate way to take a count – a lot of industry literature says you should use the number of wells and the age of the wells instead of the production rate because as a gas field gets older, operators use more compressors to extract harder-to-get gas.

This is important because while production rates in the Barnett Shale have gone down, the number of wells is increasing.

The upshot is that as impressive as all those dots seem in the second map, they may actually represent an underestimate of the number of smaller compressors on the ground. As it is, TCEQ estimates these compressors will collectively release another six and a half tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides PER DAY by 2018. That's in addition to the pollution of the larger point source compressors. 

The last map is a combination of the first two. In all three the region's smog monitors are the purple triangles. Please take note of their location as well.

For over a decade now it's the monitors at the Denton Airport and in Northwest Tarrant County – at Meacham Field, in Keller, in Grapevine and Eagle Mountain Lake – that have recorded the highest smog readings in the entire regions.

There's no question as pollution accumulates over Dallas and Fort Worth and blows Northwest, ozone levels get higher. It's also true the pollution plumes from the Midlothian cement plants can blow directly into the paths of many of these monitors. But can anyone look at these maps and not realize that these gas compressors are also contributing to the high readings being recorded at the monitors in Denton and Northwest Tarrant County?

That's the real reason TCEQ didn't want the public to see these maps.

There's another regional air quality meeting next Tuesday, August 12th in Arlington from 10 am to 12 noon at the North Central Texas Council of Government offices at 616 Six Flags Road. These meetings are the only chance that citizens have to ask questions of TCEQ staff about the information going into drafting the new anti-smog plan. Without those kinds of questions, we still wouldn't know how much air pollution these gas compressors are emitting, or their location. Rep. Burnam would not know what official requests to submit. Information is power. Come get a little more empowered this next Tuesday.