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San Antonio failed to meet emissions mark for air quality; stricter regulations likely coming

Time is up for the San Antonio area to improve its air quality.

Having failed to meet federal emissions standards for ozone air pollution, the area will most likely have its status downgraded — with increased environmental regulations and costs associated, including a new vehicle emissions testing requirement — within the next few years.

Since 2018, the amount of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds emitted from vehicles, construction and other sources has not fallen enough to reduce the level of ozone pollution in Bexar County to the national limit. Because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to change what’s known as the nonattainment status for the area. And with that will come further restrictions on the county in an effort to reduce emissions.

The move — expected to be confirmed Sept. 24 by the EPA — could raise costs across the San Antonio area as much as $8.7 billion, according to estimates by the Alamo Area Council of Governments. Several factors will contribute to the potential fiscal impact, including the cost of industry permitting, delayed projects and the loss of gross regional product resulting from inspection fees and construction setbacks. Costs associated with commuting could also be a factor.

Currently, San Antonio and its surrounding areas have an EPA ozone classification called marginal nonattainment, a designation implemented in 2018 when the national limit was reduced to a level that is less than this area’s ozone concentration. Of the five nonattainment classifications, marginal has the least severe restrictions, said Lyle Hufstetler, the natural resources project coordinator at AACOG.

Being classified as marginal attainment triggered a three-year clock for the county to reduce ozone levels to the EPA’s limit of 70 parts per billion, Hufstetler said.

“Because we didn’t do that in three years, we are being bumped up to the next level of nonattainment called moderate,” he said.

Bexar County ended last year’s ozone season — when ozone reaches its highest levels between March and November — at 72 ppb. Over the last few years, the concentration has fluctuated roughly between 72 and 73 ppb. Before 2018, the limit was 75 ppb.

Once Bexar County’s nonattainment designation is downgraded to moderate, it will have another three years — until September 2024 — to lower emissions, Hufstetler said. If the county fails again to meet the standard, further restrictions could be implemented.

What this means

Ozone pollution comes from a combination of heat and sunlight, nitrogen oxide gas released from cars and trucks, and volatile organic compounds from such things as construction and painting. The mixture can create a smog that settles over cities and causes various health problems, including asthma and lung infections.

In order to reduce ozone pollution, Bexar County must follow certain restrictions to lower nitrogen oxide and VOCs.

For people in San Antonio, the most notable of these changes is a new vehicle inspection and maintenance check for cars 2 to 24 years old. Existing vehicle safety inspection stations will likely incorporate emissions testing; they would have to rent an analyzer for about $199 per month or buy one for about $8,000.

The cost for an emissions test would be similar to that found in the Austin-Round Rock area, $11.50, which would add to the $7 cost of a safety inspection. Bexar County has four years to implement it.

For industrial facilities, the air pollution offset ratio will be increased to 1.15-to-1, up from 1-to-1. That means a facility that increases its emission of a pollutant in one process must compensate by reducing it elsewhere by more than the increase.

Furthermore, under the Clean Air Act, an area in nonattainment status must develop a state implementation plan for enforcing its air quality standard. All federal agencies are required to conform to this plan, including all industry permitting and approval. This can lead to delays in construction projects due to lengthier permitting processes and road construction.

“Under marginal, the regulations are a bit more voluntary for the industry, but moderate is a lot more stringent,” said Wendell Hardin, the city of San Antonio’s ozone attainment program manager. “Regulatory bodies will be asking industry more questions, like what efficiency controls are you putting into place and how are you going to lower your emissions.”

Read More: San Antonio failed to meet emissions mark for air quality; stricter regulations likely coming

2021-08-17 20:18:45

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