The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given San Antonio a pass on air pollution until spring of 2018. But in a letter to Governor Greg Abbott last week, the agency requested additional environmental data on Bexar County by Feb. 28.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA cracked down on smog by lowering its ozone standards from 75 to 70 parts per billion. San Antonio hovers around 73 parts per billion, putting it at risk of what's called a “non-attainment status.”
With that status comes greater federal oversight.
“That's very important for economic development,” said Diane Rath, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments, an organization that has supported local clean air efforts. “Many companies are not able to expand or relocate to non-attainment areas because of the significant regulatory restrictions.”
Rath also warned that local road construction would be negatively impacted.
"The hammer is having to submit all of your road construction projects that use federal dollars for approval to ensure they're not adding to the ozone production,” she said. “We as a community just can't afford to have that restriction placed on our already congested roads.”
Rath said projects currently in the planning stage could be delayed by two to three years.
Over the last two decades, San Antonio has lowered its ozone standard nearly 20 points despite adding over a million people to its population during the same period.
Rath attributed that success to measures taken voluntarily by both the public and private sectors. She lauded VIA’s decision to convert its fleet to compressed natural gas, as well as San Antonio’s anti-idling policy for trucks and buses.
Rath said she hopes the EPA will consider the city's progress on air quality when coming to a decision.
“We're very encouraged that they are taking time to review the data — to review what really makes us unique — because 68 percent of our ozone comes from outside of our area,” she said. “Twenty nine percent is international transport, so we're only producing 32 percent of our ozone locally.”
A recent study commissioned by the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization found that San Antonio-Bexar County will be in full compliance with the EPA ozone standards by 2020.
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame