Contact: Ashley Alvarez, 210-207-2098
Carol Schliesinger, 210-207-8172
SAN ANTONIO (July 18, 2018) – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the San Antonio area as a “nonattainment” area under federally mandated air quality standards. Specifically, Bexar County fell just short of the ozone standard that is part of the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The designation comes despite substantive progress San Antonio and the surrounding communities have made over the last several years to reduce air emissions.
“The EPA air quality designation is no surprise,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “The science showed clearly for several years that our region has been teetering on the edge of nonattainment because of stricter federal standards. As this designation loomed, we made great progress in achieving better air quality, and we will continue to strive for cleaner air. The region’s ozone levels are down significantly from where they were a decade ago.”
The Clean Air Act is the federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. Under the Act, EPA designates geographical areas in one of three categories for air pollution: “Attainment” (meeting the standards), “Nonattainment” (not meeting the standards), or “Unclassifiable” (insufficient data to classify). Bexar County’s air quality is designated “marginal nonattaintment,” which is the lowest level of designation by the EPA and requires additional review related to transportation and industrial emissions. Now that Bexar County is in nonattainment, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will conduct a comprehensive emissions inventory of all sources within Bexar County, and major sources of emissions will be required to provide TCEQ with emissions statements. The AAMPO will oversee a process called Transportation Conformity, which requires an analysis to ensure that new transportation projects do not exacerbate our ozone levels, and new businesses or expansions that will increase emissions by more than 100 tons per year will be required to complete a TCEQ permitting process called a “New Source Review.”
“Ozone pollution is harmful to public health, especially children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions. The American Thoracic Society, as well as a commissioned study by our City, estimated that reducing ozone would prevent dozens of premature deaths in San Antonio,” District 7 City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said. “While our region has made some strides in reducing pollution over the years, we know we must continue to work hard to protect our community’s health from the impacts of air pollution. This includes collaborating across government agencies, with our industrial and business organizations, and with our neighboring counties. I look forward to collaborating with our partners in protecting public health and keeping San Antonio strong.”
Air quality is affected by meteorological conditions combined with both local and transported emissions from outside of the area. Prolonged exposure to polluted air particularly threatens the health of children, people who are active or work outdoors and those with respiratory illnesses. The ozone levels in the San Antonio area have a decreasing trend from 2010-2016 in large part due to controls put on major sources of emissions like power plants and cement kilns, as well as improvements in vehicle emissions standards.
“It’s unfair to impose this significant regulatory burden on our businesses and residents when the region has decreased the ozone levels over 20% the past 15 years, despite our population increasing over 400,000 people,” said Diane Rath, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments. “I’m grateful to Governor Abbott for his support and look forward to working with TCEQ and the EPA as we move forward.”
Gas-powered combustible engines emit polluting greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, in addition to the current anti-idling ordinance for commercial trucks and buses, the City will soon roll out a voluntary program to reduce unnecessary idling of personal vehicles at local schools. The City continues to work with the community on initiatives to improve air quality through the public awareness campaign “Breathe Today, SA Tomorrow,” which encourages modifying personal behaviors that contribute to air pollution.
As a major employer with 12,000 employees in one of the fastest growing regions in the country, the City of San Antonio also takes a critical look at internal operations and works with each department within the organization to establish customized air quality action plans. Currently, the City also has several initiatives that will help improve air quality, such as San Antonio Metro Health Department’s Small Business Registration Program, the Under One Roof Program, a Smart City Air Quality Sensor Pilot and the SA Climate Ready Plan that focuses on reducing emissions in residential, commercial and industrial sectors.
The City of San Antonio is committed to working with residents and the public and private sectors to reach attainment as soon as possible, as marginal nonattainment not only impacts public health, but also has the potential to impact the economy. For more information, visit www.sanantonio.gov/sustainability and www.sanantonio.gov/health.