EPA looking for answers to ozone problem

February 2, 2010 2:58:00 PM PST
The skies over Houston are dirty and something needs to be done to make the air safer to breathe. That's the opinion of the Environmental Protection Agency who is trying to determine the best way to do that. While forcing refineries to clean up their operations may seem like a simple enough solution, there are many who say the situation is much more complicated.

The EPA says the air needs to be cleaner here, but the oil industry says levels are too low right now. They say they could be raised and still be safe for kids to breathe.

That interesting mix is why the EPA decided to come to Houston to hear what people here have to say about lowering ozone standards. The EPA is convinced that making those standards tougher will make kids healthier.

Houston is a great spot to come and talk about ozone. There are few places in America that refine as much as we do, construct as much as we do, drive as far as we do, and every one of those things pump out the chemicals needed to create ozone - a chemical that actually does serious damage to growing bodies.

The EPA sets national standards for ozone, and they want to lower it significantly to a level environmentalists and the EPA say would keep kids healthier and save thousands of adults from premature death. The oil industry doesn't really see it that way.

"It's true that ozone does cause health effects, but there's no scientific data showing it causes those health effects at the levels that we're talking about here," said Dr. Robyn Prueitt of the American Petroleum Institute.

The American Petroleum Institute, Big Oil's lobbying organization, says the standard should stay the same or actually go up. The industry says it will hurt jobs.

It would be easy to point the finger at industry and tell them to fix it, but this is about all of us since 40 percent of ozone comes from our cars.

"This is absolutely a job that is going to be upon all of us to do something to try to reduce ozone levels," said environmental activist Matthew Tejada. "It's absolutely about the stuff that we do every day in our cars, in our dry cleaning, the places where we fill up the gas in our tanks. But yeah, it also has a pretty big slice on industry, which is one of the reasons why Houston's such a good place to talk about this."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker agrees it may not be good for jobs, but it would be good for our health.

"Health is good for our economy. There's a tradeoff involved here. There's some pain in meeting these standards, but long term, I believe we're going to have to meet them," said Mayor Parker.

The mayor said the tradeoff is a tough line to walk.

It's important to keep in mind that we're talking about minute amounts of pollution - .75 parts per billion is the standard now. The EPA wants to lower that number to .6 parts per billion. It would give Houston, the state of Texas and the rest of the country until 2031 to meet that standard.