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Local, state leaders urge EPA to shelve changes

CORPUS CHRISTI — Houston air blowing into Corpus Christi could force businesses here to pay millions in air quality control measures if a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule change becomes law.

The EPA rule change in question is the maximum allowable amount of surface-level ozone, which is measured in parts per billion. Ozone high in the atmosphere shields the earth from harmful UV rays, but surface-level ozone can make people sick at high levels.

Currently, Corpus Christi and most Texas air fully complies with the national standard of 75 parts per billion,but shifting that standard to 65-to-70 parts per billion could spell disaster for businesses, Corpus Christi leaders said Friday.

“It has the potential to have a severe detrimental effect across the entire Gulf Coast region — especially where industry has a major part in employment,” said Iain Vasey, president of the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Council.

Failing to meet EPA standards for surface ozone levels introduces the region to a slew of new rules and requirements for new development. Regions are required to develop a plan to reduce pollutant emissions, which often comes at steep prices.

For example, every gasoline station in Corpus Christi could be required to install pump hoses built to capture vapor released when gasoline is pumped into vehicles. On average, such an overhaul would cost about $100,000 for each service station, said Foster Edwards, president and CEO of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Study: Minority of facilities produce most natural gas methane emissions

“Dry cleaners might have to raise their prices, too,” Edwards said. “People don’t realize how far-reaching this is. People think this just affects Citgo and Valero here, but that’s not true.”

Public comment on the proposed EPA rule change ends today, and the Corpus Christi Air Quality Control Group is officially opposing the rule change, in part, because the lower standards may be lower than area businesses or elected officials can achieve because of air blown in from the north.

Gretchen Arnold, chair of the air quality control group, said monitoring stations installed north of town register incoming air masses above the proposed limits.

“Before Corpus Christi has any authority we’re already out of attainment,” Arnold said. “Don’t punish us in Corpus Christi for what was done somewhere else.”

Nonattainment is the term for a city or region that fails to meet the required level of air quality measured by surface ozone levels.

The air quality group’s official public comment sent to the EPA calls the proposed rule change “unrealistic ozone attainment expectation” that would “remove any incentives to reduce emissions” after area businesses have voluntarily reduced emissions for years.

Should Corpus Christi fall into nonattainment status, economic development here could stagnate, said Vasey who recently moved to Corpus Christi from Baton Rouge — a city in nonattainment status.

That’s because new development in nonattainment regions must be offset with “credits” showing emissions have been reduced elsewhere to more than offset the new development. Because credits are earned by reducing emissions, new development either has to wait until emission-reduction projects are completed or operations must be bought and shutdown to earn the credits necessary for new development.

In 2014, Baton Rouge likely missed out on about 800 jobs, $80 million in annual payroll and just under $2 billion in capital expenditures largely because the restrictions on development that come with nonattainment status, Vasey said.

But the EPA ruling carries ramifications that would be felt statewide, and not just in the Coastal Bend.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement Monday blasting the proposed change as part of a federal government agenda to “stifle economic growth and job creation.” Abbott also co-signed a letter with 10 other governors urging the EPA to pull back its proposed rule change.

“The proposed NAAQS is so extreme that even some of our pristine national parks may not be able to satisfy it,” the letter states. “It goes without saying that most cities and counties have no chance of attaining this standard.”

This article was written by Matt Woolbright from Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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