The Trump administration is making Houstonians wait for cleaner air by delaying implementation of Obama-era limits on ozone, the lung-searing gas also known as smog.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday declared roughly 2,650 counties nationwide as effectively in compliance with the 70 parts per billion standard for the ubiquitous pollutant, but did not make a final decision about the eight-county Houston region, among others, that are likely to be in violation of the health-based standard.
The move is the latest in a series of steps Pruitt has taken to roll back or delay environmental protections from the previous administration. With no timetable for bringing the Houston area into compliance with the federal limit, he is allowing Texas regulators and industry to put off the adoption of needed pollution-reduction measures that will better protect public health.
So far in 2017, greater Houston has experienced 21 days with ozone levels that exceeded the federal standards. The worst smog day was September 1, when many Houstonians spent long hours outside to clean up after Hurricane Harvey.
Ozone forms when emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks mix with other airborne compounds in the presence of sunlight. The pollutant can exacerbate asthma, lung disease and heart disease – and even lead to premature death.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was required to disclose which areas of the country are in violation of the 2015 ozone standards by October 1. The agency has not commented other than to say it does not have a timeline for making designations for Houston and other places with dirty air.
Pruitt has launched a task force to see how the agency can relax the federal standards – a move supported by energy industry groups. He has yet to release any information regarding the task force’s activities and plans for action.
Air Alliance Houston, along with other advocacy groups, has sued the EPA for delaying these standards. By not taking action, the EPA is failing to prioritize public health over industry.