The Environmental Protection Agency has released new rules to reduce ozone pollution. The Austin area has managed to stay on the right side of current rules, but the new standards will be harder to meet.
Traditionally when there’s a lot of ozone in the air, a group called the Clean Air Force of Central Texas encourages people to limit their emissions.
“Just combining errands is a biggie, carpooling, taking public transportation when you can,” says Sarah Holland, the group's director.
Efforts like those have helped keep the region just on the right side of the old ozone limit. The new rules require that ground level ozone be kept at 70 parts per billion in the air. The Austin area is currently around 68 parts per billion. So what can a city do if it needs to go beyond carpooling?
“There are some areas where cities have the authority to do some things that maybe they haven’t yet done,” says Andrew Hoekzema, the capital area council of government’s air quality program manager. He also serves on the EPA's clean air act advisory committee. He says cities can tie economic incentives to promises from businesses to cut down on emissions. Some cities even require large employers to come up with plans to keep their employees off the roads.
“City of Austin had taken a look at that a couple years ago. Never made it to the stage as a full proposal, but that could be something the city could do,” Hoekzema says.
Austin’s Decker Power plant also contributes to ozone. Hoekzema says power conservation would reduce those emissions, though some environmental groups would like to see it shut down completely. Public health advocates say the new rules will prevent thousands of cases of childhood asthma and even premature deaths. All told, Hoekzema expects Austin will stay in compliance even with the new standards. The city has been reducing ozone year by year, thanks in large part to tougher emissions standards for new cars.