Breathe Easier? Not So Much.

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In general, I don’t really care about kids. I don’t have them and don’t plan on having them any time soon. But I do believe that kids should be allowed to, oh, I don’t know, breathe. I think they deserve that much.

Last week, Taylor “Tay” Candelario, a 12-year-old asthma sufferer from Houston, pleaded with the EPA to clean up the city’s smoggy skies. Candelario has been hospitalized nearly every year for asthma attacks, and, unlike the typical kid I encounter during the mundane routines of my life, she had a rather selfless request: ”I don’t want it to be about what I have. I want it to be about cleaning up the air for everyone,” Houston Chronicle quoted her as saying. “I’m depending on you. My family is depending on you.”

The young girl’s testimony came in the middle of an EPA hearing on whether the federal agency should lower the ozone standard, giving life to an otherwise dry, technical discussion. If you’ve ever attended any of these meetings, or talk to people who lead these meetings, the big picture sometimes gets lost in a debate over “emissions reductions strategies.” Candelario made the issue more than a math problem.

A lower federal ozone threshold would force the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to place tougher regulations on a range of polluters, from diesel cranes to cement kilns to TXU. As you might expect if you read the paper version of Unfair Park’s cover story on the politics of Dirty Air, the state’s environmental agency is actually arguing against a tougher ozone standard.

David Schanbacher, the chief engineer for the agency, has said the science is inconclusive on the need for a lower threshold, which is the same exact position that industry is taking. The former chair of the agency, Kathleen Hartnett White, argued the same point in a letter to the EPA this spring. Incredibly, the federal agency’s proposed new standard is actually a lot looser than what its own scientists recommend. We could only imagine what the state would do if the feds didn’t water down their plan.

It’s hard to write too much about ozone levels without putting people to sleep, so let’s just get to the point: The chief engineer and former chair of our state environmental agency is actually coming out against stronger environmental standards, taking the same exact position as the polluters. That would be like Police Chief David Kunkle and Mayor Tom Leppert testifying against tougher federal sentencing laws for drug trafficking.

There’s a lot of all of us can do to make sure that Taylor Candelarios can breathe a little easier, but until the state cares just a little bit, nothing we do will make much of a difference. If we’re all going to be choking on noxious air, we may as well blast the air conditioning on our Chevy Suburbans. --Matt Pulle

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