SAN ANTONIO– San Antonio suffered through 49 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report from Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Texas PIRG Education Fund. The report calls for reducing pollution from transportation, supporting clean and renewable energy, and increasing regulation for industrial polluters, protecting and building upon progress made by the Clean Air Act.
“No Texan should have to experience one day of polluted air -- let alone 49 days,” said Emma Pabst, Global Warming Solutions Associate with Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”
For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from oil refineries, concrete batch plants, cars and trucks, petrochemical plants, and burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas and from other sources.
“Everyone deserves – and needs – to breathe clean air. Yet the data show that people who work, live, and play in San Antonio do not always have access to this basic need,” said Councilwoman Ana E. Sandoval. “Among them are our children, the elderly, and those who suffer from conditions like asthma and COPD. It is within our ability and it is our responsibility to take steps to protect their health and keep our air clean.”
“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment," said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects." Dr. Tummala noted, for example, that studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.
The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.
“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health."
In San Antonio, residents and activists, including DeeDee Belmares, Climate Justice Organizer with Public Citizen, have been working to shut down the Spruce Coal Plant -- one of the many contributors to air pollution in the city. “Here in San Antonio, we can start with addressing the 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution coming from CPS Energy’s coal fired plants. Closing these polluting plants would not only improve air quality but it would put our city on a path to clean renewable energy,” Belmares said.
Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.
“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government -- at all levels -- should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Pabst. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and public transit. ”
The Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP) provides financial incentives to individuals, businesses, or local governments to reduce emissions from polluting vehicles and equipment, including school buses, light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, and diesel vehicles. In 2019, the Legislature approved HB 3745, which will triple the funding available for TERP starting in 2021.
“Texans want cleaner air and they deserve to know that their tax dollars are used for the purpose intended,” says Representative Cecil Bell, Jr. “HB 3745 establishes truth in taxation and assures the dedicated fees and taxes collected are fully available to fund TERP, addressing air quality in non attainment regions.”
The report also identifies fossil fuel production and combustion such as oil and gas wells, flares, refineries, and coal plants, as major contributors to air pollution.
“Let's work together to let regulators and polluters know that we are speaking to them with one voice,” said Peter Bella, the former Natural Resources Director for the Alamo Area Council of Governments. “The science means nothing unless we act, and we are determined to see improvements, to see less pollution and safer communities.”
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmenttexascenter.org.