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The most important fight: Environmental groups push for stricter emission restrictions
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The most important fight: Environmental groups push for stricter emission restrictions

2021 was a tumultuous year for El Pasos climate and environment

Environmental and community groups who welcomed the recent ruling that El Paso County was in violation of federal air quality standards are now working to ensure that local pollution sources are subject to stricter state regulations.

The severity and impact of these environmental regulations depends on whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency accepts arguments from state officials that Ciudad Jurez contributes to El Paso’s high ozone levels.

This is the biggest fight we’ve had yet because this is where really all the emission reductions are going to happen, David Baake said.

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The lawsuit, filed by a Las Cruces-based lawyer in 2018, led the EPA’s decision to lower El Paso Countys air quality rating from attainment (in December 2021) to marginal nonattainment (in December 2021). The EPA is weighing whether it should increase this to a more severe classification of moderate nonattainment.

If an area has ozone levels higher than the federal pollution standards, it is considered in nonattainment.

Ozone pollution is also known as smog. It forms when heat from the sun reacts with the emissions from vehicles and power plants. This is especially important for El Paso, which is experiencing hotter days due to climate change. making smog pollution worse.

Excessive ozone pollution can be especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and people suffering from asthma.

2020 will see the American Lung Association The highest rankedEl Paso-Las Cruces is the nation’s 13th worst area for ozone poisoning.

In a December report, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality claimed that Jurez is the largest contributor to air quality violations and not El Paso. The report said El Paso would be in compliance with federal standards but for emissions from Mexico — a Key exceptionThe federal Clean Air Act ensures that transboundary areas don’t become liable for international emissions.

David Baake

Baake stated that there is no denying that Ciudad Jurez has high levels of pollution. He said that Jurez’s population and industrial development aren’t changing at the pace necessary to suggest that it is responsible for the region’s decline in air quality.

El Paso’s higher levels of ozone contamination are due to the continued population growth in West Texas, and a dramatic rise in oil and gas emissions in the Permian basinin. Baake wrote in a legal reply to TCEQs report filed by eight environmental and community organizations on Jan. 21.

The response indicated that higher temperatures and more frequent wildfires are also contributing factors.

Familias Unidas del Chamizal and the Sierra Club are among the groups that want El Paso to be further classified as moderate ozone nonattainment by the EPA. This would require Texas to take more aggressive measures to reduce ozone-producing emission in the region.

Areas in marginal notattainment are required to regulate new sources or permit for existing sources. Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s large East-Central El Paso oil refinery must renew its state air quality permit once every ten years.

A moderate classification would mean that TCEQ would need to more aggressively regulate existing pollution sources like vehicles, gasoline pumps, or emissions coming from power plants and refineries.

There’s not a lot of new development in the area that’s going to be triggering the new source requirements, which is good. But, we do want to make sure we’re getting those existing sources under control because they contribute a lot to pollution, Baake said of the need for stricter regulations.

According to the EPA, a decision will be made by 2022. Whatever designation it chooses, it will remain in effect until the EPA reexamines standards for air quality.

Cover photo: Dec. 14th, contamination in the air obscures the view of the tri-state area. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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