30 April 2001 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]By Don Richards
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) executive director Jeffrey A. Saitas has sent a letter to Brazoria County Judge John Willy sharply criticizing a report by RMT Consulting that appears to justify the county's removal from the Houston-Galveston ozone nonattaiment area.
Brazoria County is home to such industrial facilities as the huge complex of Dow Chemical at Freeport, as well as plants of BASF, Phillips Petroleum, Rhodia Inc., Shintech Inc. and Schenectady Chemical.
Three of the eight counties in the designated area--led by Brazoria County--are suing TNRCC for what they consider unfair restrictions imposed on them by a new smog-reduction plan (CMR, 1/15/01, pg. 5).
Last week when asked if the agency would critique a similar study done for Montgomery County, TNRCC responded that there were no plans to do so, and that Brazoria County had been singled out because officials there were spearheading the lawsuit.
Basically, Mr. Saitas's letter disputes all major claims made by RMT Consulting. For example, the study showed that the county's air is better than the federal standard 99.98 percent of the time.
But TNRCC claims that while the study showed only six hours of exceedances over the 1998-2000 period, the commission's records show the county exceeded the ozone standard on seven days--four more days than acceptable--and is therefore in nonattainment.
To say that Brazoria County does not significantly contribute to ozone formation in the area is "simply wrong," according to Mr. Saitas's letter. He writes, "Brazoria County is the fifth largest source of NOx from point sources in Texas."
Brazoria County industries produce more nitrogen oxide than Galveston, Tarrant, Dallas, Chambers, Orange, Collin, Denton or El Paso counties, according to the letter.
"In addition, it has more emissions than many of the state's other major metropolitan counties, including the counties in which San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and Harlingen are located. It is also the seventh largest source of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from point sources."
Mr. Saitas also blasts the study's contention that exceedances of the ozone standard in Brazoria County are caused by transport from other counties.
When complete data are reviewed, "this analysis actually provides the scientific argument for including the entire region in the nonattainment area," the letter says. "A complete review of data makes clear that transport from Brazoria County is as likely to cause or contribute to exceedances in other areas as exceedances caused by transport to Brazoria County. Some exceedances in the county are also attributable only to Brazoria County."
The letter further notes, "In summary, Brazoria County is part of the Houston-Galveston nonattainment area for scientific, legal and health reasons. First, the monitor in Brazoria County has shown that the county, on its own, violates the standard for ozone found in the Clean Air Act."
Mr. Saitas reiterates what the commission has insisted from the beginning--that the county is, and will continue to be, a part of the nonattainment area. "The federal Clean Air Act, as amended, includes no opportunity for a county designated as part of a nonattainment area to simply withdraw from the area."
The TNRCC official concludes that for Brazoria County to be excluded from nonattainment status, "Congress would have to pass, and the President would have to sign, a change to the federal Clean Air Act."
Judge Willy dismisses the TNRCC executive director's letter as "posturing" and says it was written out of desperation.
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