The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has never exactly been on point when it comes to, you know, protecting the environment (this is Texas after all, land where the only good environmental regulation is a nonexistent one) but the state agency came out with a doozy this week.
See, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is considering changing the regulations governing the acceptable limit of smog (more politely known as Ozone) after a panel of scientists reviewed the current standards of 75 parts per billion and decided unanimously that the standard was too high. The EPA subsequently issued a mandate that will lower ozone air quality regulations to 60 parts per billion which will likely put a whole bunch of Texas cities into non-attainment, according to TCEQ toxicologist Dr. Michael Honeycutt.
Honeycutt, the top toxicologist in the state, is the one leading the charge against making any changes at all to air quality standards. He and a bunch of TCEQ scientists have followed in the footsteps of Republicans in Texas and across the country in vowing to oppose EPA air quality changes until the end of time.
First and foremost, according to Honeycutt, it will cost a whole bunch of money to get Texas air pollution rates down to the new lower regulatory levels. Besides, he explained in an article posted on the TCEQ website, smog is only a problem if you go outside. Specifically:
"Ozone is an outdoor air pollutant, because systems such as air conditioning remove it from indoor air. Since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, we (and the people in the epidemiology studies used to justify lowering the standard) are rarely exposed to significant levels of ozone."
So presumably if we all stop leaving our air conditioned sanctuaries, and promise to only take shallow breaths when we do, we should be just fine.
He goes on to argue that the EPA is fudging their numbers, burying predictions that smog-related deaths will actually increase immediately after the stricter regulations go into place (the immediate aftermath of ozone reduction also reduces the pollutant nitrogen oxide which, oddly enough, counteracts ozone, according to the Texas Tribune.) Houston is one of the cities modeled in the EPA study -- the only Texas city in the study, in fact -- and Honeycutt points out there will actually be an increase by about a dozen deaths right after the regulations are put into place in Houston alone. According to Honeycutt and company, proposed regulations are just an attempt to get all political with environmental policy.
"I'm often asked, wouldn't it be easier to just accept what the EPA does? Isn't it a lot of trouble to try to affect the direction of the EPA's 16,000 employees and $8 billion budget? Yes, of course that would be easier, but it wouldn't be the right thing to do.
Environmental regulations should be based on sound science. If they are not, then it opens the door for regulations that are based on politics, or on other reasons that do not benefit the public. "
Says the guy with the agency who infamously went into a scientific article on Galveston Bay and deleted references to climate change, the human impact on environment and rising sea levels, according to the Texas Observer. John Anderson, the Maurice Ewing professor of oceanography at Rice University, author of the article, got so frustrated he actually publicly accused the state agency of doing this and being motivated by politics instead of science.
Honeycutt's solution to this whole smog problem is to keep things as they are. He thinks that staying inside will keep everyone safe enough, and, considering how expensive cutting back on smog would be, we all should just settle down and accept that wisdom. After all, it comes from the elaborate interpretive dance that is "science" as conveyed by the TCEQ. Sans politics, of course.
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