AIR QUALITY IN SAN ANTONIO
The air we breathe is a public good. Since it’s essential to life, breathing clean air is a fundamental right of everyone. Good air quality ensures that our community is equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically viable. On July 18, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency designated Bexar County as a nonattainment area for ground-level ozone under federally mandated air quality standards. Read more about the EPA designation here.
The City of San Antonio works with area partners to enact policies and programs that mitigate air pollution through regulation and voluntary action. In addition to passing a recent anti-idling ordinance for commercial trucks and buses, COSA and its partners seek to inform the public about taking action to improve air quality through outreach and education. The public awareness campaign “Breathe Today, SA Tomorrow” encourages our greater community to modify behavior that contributes to air pollution. As a major employer with 12,000 employees in one of the fastest growing regions in the country, the City also takes a critical look at internal operations and works with each department within the organization to establish customized air quality action plans.
In 2018, the City joined the BreatheLife Campaign international network that works to share data and strategies among peer cities to “protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution.”
In 2017, the City of San Antonio (COSA) commissioned an air quality health study to estimate the impact on health of Bexar County residents and the economic costs associated with changes in outdoor ozone. The study found that increases in San Antonio’s ozone can lead to increases in ozone-related deaths.
Despite consistent growth, the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area experienced a slightly decreasing ozone 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 through improvements in vehicle emissions standards. However, ozone levels continue to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
CONSEQUENCES OF AIR POLLUTION
The Clean Air Act is a United States federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate geographical areas as “Attainment” (meeting the standards), “Nonattainment” (not meeting the standards), or “Unclassifiable” (insufficient data to classify) for air pollution. Per the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), an area is in violation of the Clean Air Act if the annual fourth highest 8-hour average ozone concentration, averaged over 3 consecutive years, exceeds 70 parts per billion (ppb.) Air quality is affected by meteorological conditions combined with both local and transported emissions from outside of the area. A current look at San Antonio’s 2018 air quality status can be found on the Alamo Area Council of Governments’ website.
When an area is designated as Nonattainment, a state is required to file a State Improvement Plan (SIP) to focus on reduction of emissions from major pollution sources. It must be demonstrated to the EPA that Attainment Demonstration and Reasonable Further Progress toward improving air quality is being made. City of San Antonio policy-makers consider air quality to be a priority for the community, both for continued economic prosperity and public health. According to the Alamo Area Council of Governments “Potential Cost of Nonattainment in the San Antonio Metropolitan Area” report, economic costs related to loss of gross regional product (GRP) in Bexar County could range from $2.1 to $28.4 billion. These increased costs are largely attributed to permitting and project delays.