Accurate emission calculations wanted

July 11, 2008 7:55:20 AM PDT
Houston Mayor Bill White asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to change the way it calculates hazardous gas emissions in the city. The mayor said he wants large-scale facilities like refineries and chemical plants to directly measure their harmful gas emissions rather than rely on a set formula. Traditionally, EPA monitors gas emissions through standard estimates.

"It's a simple request, but it's a very bold request," White said. "It's a request that will help the people of Houston know what's in their air and take the appropriate response."

The mayor is asking EPA to require facilities to directly measure emissions annually and use fence-line monitoring to confirm the emissions at the largest facilities.

Elena Marks, the mayor's director of health and environmental policy, said some companies may benefit from limiting certain emissions, such as benzene, because they would be cutting down on the amount of product they lose to pollution.

"It's recaptured product for them," she said, adding that the mayor's idea is not unusual. "This is already SOP in places in Europe."

In his third and last term, White has purchased wind-powered electricity, weatherized old homes and added hybrids to the city fleet. White also has accused chemical companies of emitting cancer-causing air pollutants.

His pursuit for air quality has led to confrontations with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates air pollution. But on Thursday, the mayor said he hoped TCEQ would support his request for more accurate emission calculations.

"I've never heard any person at TCEQ tell me to my face that they thought it was a good idea to use estimates rather than observations to calculate the amount of pollution," White said. "We hope that TCEQ will join us."

Critics suggest White may be pandering to environmental advocates in hopes of furthering his political career. But White says he is "having fun with this job," and said he has no plans to pursue the 2010 gubernatorial race at the time.

"I try to do one job at a time," he said. "I'd like to continue public service at some time after I leave this office but it's not coming up."

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