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Under New EPA Standard, San Antonio May Fall Into "Non-Attainment" With Clean Air Act

Chris Eudaily
TPR News
If the city falls into "non-attainment" status under the new EPA regulations, vehicles may have to be tested annually for emissions.

The race is on for this area to stay in compliance with federal guidelines on air quality but local leaders are being pushed up against huge obstacles.

The biggest hurdle may be complying with a lower Environmental Protection Agency standard, currently set at 75 parts per billion. San Antonio is just outside that number, while technically still in attainment of the Clean Air Act.

Peter Bella, the natural resources director for the Alamo Area Council of Governments, explained to AACOG's Air Improvement Resources Technical Committee Monday, that without doing anything to improve our air quality, it is getting better.

But the new standard, set to be revealed early next year, is a moving target.

"If the standard is revised it's not going to be 75 parts per billion," Bella said. "It's going to be 70, 65, 60. Some lower number. So it's good if we're going down and we get below 75, but that wouldn't be enough to meet the requirements under a new standard."

San Antonio is the only city among the nation's 10 largest in attainment right now. District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez said he thinks local leaders should start taking a look at coming up with a strategy to help San Antonio stay in attainment. This year, and the next two summers, will determine whether that's the case.

San Antonio Intergovernmental Relations Director Jeff Coyle said if San Antonio falls into non-attainment status, consequences will be triggered.

"For example, in a lot of non-attainment cities there is mandatory vehicle emission testing, so before you can get the sticker on your windshield to be able to drive your car, you have to be able to prove that your car is not emitting too many pollutants," Coyle said.

Non-attainment would also mean other consequences, like requiring new businesses to receive a permit before operating to make sure they don't contribute more pollution, or approving transportation projects so that they conform to the standard.

Russell Seal, who is a pharmacist, is concerned about the health and well-being of the region's most vulnerable.

"We all can do something, from what kind of vehicle we're buying to when we're using the mowers or things on ozone action days, whether we can change our driving habits on ozone actions days," Seal said. "As a community we can get this under control."

Seal said everyday actions can make or break the attainment status.

AACOG is thinking of key elements of an overall strategy to help the region, which include items like identifying technologies for pollution prevention, increasing community awareness through education campaigns, and building relationships with key stakeholders.

The plan needs more funding, though. Coyle said the city could help out, or the state could pitch in.

The bottom line, Coyle said, is that there is only a short window of opportunity to take action.

"And if we have any hope of staying in attainment of the air quality regulations, then we need to take action now," he said.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.