Houston Leaders React To Obama's Ozone Delay

Right before the holiday weekend, the Obama administration announced that it would not be rolling out stricter standards to control ozone pollution. Instead, the ozone change will be delayed until 2013. KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel talked with local leaders about what this bodes for Houston.

Smoke from wildfires to the west of Houston is blowing our way.

It’s a timely reminder of the city’s constant battles with air pollution.

Matt Tejada directs Air Alliance Houston, an environmental group.

You are smelling wildfire smoke, it is kind of that carbon black charcoal-y smell.”

Tejada says the smoke could irritate people with asthma or emphysema, but it should dissipate soon.

But ozone remains a huge problem in Houston.

The federal limit was 75 parts per billion, and the EPA was planning to lower it to 70. But President Obama told the agency to wait until 2013.

Tejada was disappointed but says he wasn’t really surprised.

“It was just getting too close to a political cycle. And it’s just really sad. Because we had seen the ozone standard as well as other public health standards constantly being held prisoner to political cycles for several administrations. And we thought that under the Obama administration we could finally break free of politics. But once again politics has won out.”

But two Houston politicians approved of the delay.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and state representative Garnet Coleman both say it’s not a good time for more regulation because of the recession.

“In a tough economy it’s important not to add too much burden to business at this time.”

Coleman says he wants ozone levels lowered — someday. But he says the regulation could threaten jobs.

“Sometimes things have to be put on hold in order to make sure that people can pay their mortgage.”

Tejada says that politicians are simply bowing to pressure from industry.

The ozone rule would have a broad impact on all places where ozone chemicals come from: cars, refineries, power plants.

But Tejada says it’s wrong to assume that the regulation would cost jobs. He says just look at the past decade: the Houston region created jobs while ozone levels dropped.

“This choice that we’re being offered between clean air or economic prosperity and growth is absolutely a false choice. It’s never cost anybody a job to run a process cleaner or to have a cleaner car. If anything it creates jobs. If anything it puts a dent in a quarterly profit for a corporation and they don’t like that. So that’s what we’re really fighting over.”

Tejada says environmental groups will press forward with lawsuits, as they did during the last administration when President Bush also failed to review ozone standards.

The Clean Air Act requires the government to adjust the ozone limit every five years, based on health data.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...