Merry Christmas: EPA denies Wise County pollution petitions

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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It’s official. Wise County is part of the “Metroplex.”

But in this particular case, it’s no great honor.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday sent out a response to cities, school districts, the county and other organizations throughout Wise County explaining why it is denying their petitions to exclude the county from the EPA’s “nonattainment” area for air pollution standards.

All the entities in the county, including Look Local Wise County, chambers of commerce and other organizations, were asked to send petitions to the EPA protesting Wise County’s inclusion in the nonattainment area.

“After carefully considering 29 petitions asking for reconsideration of final area designations for the 2008 ozone standards, EPA continues to believe that the technical information supporting our final designations provides a sound basis for our decisions,” said the EPA’s Dallas office in a statement issued Tuesday. The agency also denied four requests that they “stay” the designation for a specific area.

The decision leaves the county to await the economic impact of being added to the area that already included Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, and Tarrant.

A lawsuit filed by Wise County against the regulatory agency is still pending, but it was not known at presstime what impact, if any, the EPA’s decision would have on that. County Judge Bill McElhaney was unable to comment by presstime Tuesday pending a conversation with the county’s attorney in the lawsuit.

The local letters, most of them sent in July, petitioned the EPA to reconsider the final area designation for Wise County. One of the arguments was that the EPA’s decision did not consider new information submitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that indicated lower VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions than the EPA’s data indicated.

But the EPA’s letter said the new data was considered.

“We took into account these updates and concerns in our final decision,” the letter said. “Notwithstanding the new emission inventory data provided by Texas and TCEQ during the comment period … the emissions from Wise County still contribute to measured violations of the 2008 ozone [quality standards] at monitors in neighboring counties.”

The EPA’s nearest air-quality monitors to Wise County are located at Eagle Mountain Lake and in Keller, both in Tarrant County. But the agency’s response indicates they are confident Wise County is part of the problem and must be included in measures to reduce air pollution.

Chico Mayor J.D. Clark said he would have appreciated air monitors throughout the county to have a better picture of local conditions.

Being smaller in terms of population didn’t help Wise County, either.

“While we acknowledged that Wise County’s population and VMT are smaller in comparison to that of other parts of the DFW nonattainment area … emissions from the area and distance from the violating monitors were two of the compelling factors for determining the ‘contribution’ of Wise County.

“The total emissions from Wise County are significant and rank comparatively high against the emissions from other counties in the area,” the letter stated. “Wise County’s population and VMT (vehicle miles travelled) data indicated that Wise County’s relatively high total emissions derive more from point and area sources associated with oil and gas production activities in the county.”

County officials also argued that being included in the nonattainment area would have an adverse economic impact on the county.

The EPA’s response was basically that that’s not their problem.

“The EPA is required to designate as nonattainment an area that is violating a new or revised national ambient air quality standard or that contributes to a nearby violation,” Tuesday’s letter stated. “In determining whether an area should be designated nonattainment, the EPA does not consider economic impacts…”

The EPA letter also dismissed the arguments that prevailing winds carry Metroplex pollution to Wise County, not from it, and the claim that local entities did not have enough time to formulate their responses to the decision.

The decision means an array of rules and regulations already in place in those other nonattainment counties will be implemented in Wise County, although the timetable for implementation was not clear in the EPA letter.

Control measures required for automobiles under the state’s air quality rules for nonattainment areas include locally enforced vehicle idling restrictions, stricter vehicle inspection and maintenance standards, requiring low emission diesel fuel and reformulated gasoline as well as possibie speed limit reductions.

The new rules could also include vapor recovery systems for water heaters, small boilers and process heaters, and larger industrial polluters could be required to install special equipment.

An array of voluntary energy efficiency and renewable energy methods will also be encouraged.

In rejecting the petitions, the EPA also noted that being in the nonattainment area has not slowed economic growth in other counties.

“Finally, we note that DFW counties designated nonattainment, such as Dallas, Denton, Collin, Parker, Tarrant, etc., have continued to grow despite their nonattainment designations,” the letter said.

A copy of all the petitions and EPA’s responses will be available on EPA’s website at beginning Wednesday.

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