EPA tightens air quality standards…not the time to build toll roads

Link to article here. Considering most toll roads in Texas are taking twice the footprint as keeping them freeways, now is not the time to build excessively large, more expensive toll roads that fewer and fewer people can afford.

EPA Corrective Action: Limit transportation projects to those that don’t create more pollution.

Solution: No 20 lane MEGA toll road on 281 (or elsewhere) that will only increase car and truck emissions.

Knowing TXDOT, it will promote the TTC and toll roads as the Holy Grail to relieve congestion and pollution…not so! Take a look at TxDOT’s vision of congestion relief. Toll roads DO NOT solve congestion.

Air rules cloud future for S.A.
By Anton Caputo

Federal regulators strengthened the nation’s air quality regulations Wednesday, likely putting hundreds of new communities including San Antonio on the nation’s bad air list, but falling short of what environmental groups and the federal government’s own scientific advisers wanted.The long-awaited decision by the Environmental Protection Agency tightened ground-level ozone pollution standards from 84 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion. The change means communities like San Antonio, which has had average ozone readings of 82 parts per billion over the past three years, will have to come up with plans to control pollution or face federal measures.

Local and state officials had been lobbying hard against the change, arguing the medical science behind the stronger standard was not justified. They also contend communities like San Antonio will have a hard time determining their own destiny because pollution often is blown in from other parts of the state and country.

“First of all, I think we’re the only major American city that is meeting the 84 standard,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “I don’t know how they expect us to meet 75. I’m just real concerned that it’s a big overreaction that is really not going to do anything for anybody other than cause an economic hardship.”

The federal government won’t compile its new list of failing counties until 2010. At that time, local leaders will have three years to formulate a plan to lower pollution.

Communities that fail are required to take pollution-control steps such as vehicle-emission testing and installing vapor recovery systems at gas stations.

Many also have been required to institute a pollution program that makes it difficult for industry to expand. Road projects can be affected because local transportation planners have to prove the projects won’t create more pollution before spending federal highway funds.

Peter Bella of the Alamo Area Council of Governments said he would continue to work with area cement companies and other industry to voluntarily reduce pollution. But he said it was unlikely that voluntary measures would net the kind of improvements needed.

“It’s going to be real challenging,” he said. “There are no two ways about it.”

Joe Stanko, a Washington-based attorney who represents the power industry, said Wednesday’s decision probably will set off a flurry of lawsuits.

“Various industries are likely to sue because they believe the standards are too stringent,” he said. “The environmental community may sue because it was looking for the standards to be even lower.”

Ground-level ozone, the main component of smog, is formed when pollutants from vehicles, industrial plants and other sources bake in the hot sun.

It’s a lung irritant that has been linked to asthma attacks, reduced lung function and other ailments.

The EPA’s own scientific advisory board had recommended setting the standard at 70 parts per billion or lower, a recommendation shared by a federal advisory panel on children’s health. But EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who said he also was bombarded by politicians and industry representatives asking for no change at all, decided on the 75 parts per billion.

“It doesn’t make anybody happy,” former EPA administrator Jeff Holmstead said. “He was trying to thread the needle between what the environmental groups wanted and what the business community was hoping for.”

Regulators estimate as many as 345 counties nationally will fail to meet the new standard when the federal agency compiles its official list in 2010. The San Antonio region includes Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe counties.

Federal regulators believe that by 2020, the number of failing counties will fall to 28.

They expect the health benefit of the new standard to be substantial. Based on a number of studies, the EPA reports, the new standards will help avoid as many as 2,300 premature deaths, 380 cases of chronic bronchitis, 6,100 cases of aggravated asthma and 750,000 days missed from school or work a year by 2020.

The new rules will cost an estimated $7.6 billion to $8.5 billion a year to implement by 2020, but will save $2 billion to $19 billion a year in health costs and other benefits.

Johnson said he didn’t take into account the cost analysis or the ability to implement the plan when making a decision because the Clean Air Act precludes him from doing so. But the nation’s top environmental regulator also said Wednesday that he wanted to change the landmark environmental law so things like cost and feasibility can be used in determining future regulations.

Any such move is likely to be met with strong opposition in Congress. Health experts and environmentalists view the setting of health standards without consideration of cost as essential for assuring public health.

Such changes “would gut the Clean Air Act, which has saved countless lives and protected the health of millions of Americans for more than 35 years,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.