EPA to complete proposal to reduce ozone levels

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    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will finalize a proposal by the end of October that would require states to increase efforts to reduce ozone levels, a spokesperson for the organization said.

    Dave Bary said states would have to meet a new national air quality standard for ozone levels in the air. The current standard of 85 parts per billion of ozone chemicals in the air could be lowered by nearly 30 percent.

    Michael Slattery, professor of geology and director of the university’s Institute for Environmental Studies, said he thought this change was significant. He said he thought it could bring about positive change, even though it was highly unlikely that counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or Houston would meet the new lower standard because they were already violating the current one.

    “I think that should really incentivize the cities to really start investing a little more in public transport and really get the people involved in trying to reduce the emissions,” he said.

    Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said most of the ozone-related air quality problems in the Metroplex are caused by mobile sources, such as cars, trucks and trains.

    Slattery said he thought the university was a contributor to the local ozone levels because of all the school’s commuters.

    “We’re all to blame for it because we all drive vehicles that produce pollution and we drive in from long distances,” he said.

    Morrow said current programs to help Texas cities reach air quality standards include the Drive a Clean Machine program, which gives people who qualify up to $3,500 to help purchase a new vehicle or a newer-model used vehicle that produces fewer emissions. People who meet certain income requirements and who own a car that fails emissions tests are eligible for the program.

    Slattery said he thought there were some things the university could do, like creating a faculty and student carpool network, to improve commuter emissions.

    Such a network, he said, would use something called a geographic information system to create a website where students and faculty could log on to find others traveling to campus at the same times, along the same routes.

    “It sounds pretty daunting, but actually, it’s not,” Slattery said. “It’s been done successfully at other universities.”

    Bary said the proposal was drafted in January and that the last time the standard was lowered was 20 years ago. Over the last 15 years, he said, air quality has improved, but the EPA intends to lower the standard because more information has developed about ozone and its negative effect on human health.

    Bary said the state would have to develop another plan to bring the Metroplex into compliance with the new standard.

    Morrow said the TCEQ, the organization responsible for coming up with strategies for the state to meet national air quality standards, would not say what kinds of changes it expected to make after the levels are dropped.

    “Until we know what [the new] standard is going to be, we can’t tell you exactly where we’re going to wind up,” she said.

    Slattery said he thought the state would have to look at giving more incentives for travelers to carpool and utilize public transport. Such changes, he said, would have to come from more than just state regulations.

    “You can’t just solve these problems from the top down,” he said. “It also has to start from the bottom up.”