The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is supposed to protect the state from pollution. Instead, it is fighting the federal government on tougher ozone standards. According to the commission, ozone levels across Texas aren’t actually harmful to human health now, and should not be limited any further.
“I haven’t seen the data that says lowering ozone will produce a health benefit,” the chief toxicologist at TCEQ, Michael Honeycutt, told the Texas Tribune. “In fact, I’ve seen data that shows it might have a negative health benefit.” That’s right. He believes that lowering ozone levels is harmful. What he’s referring to is the fact that when ozone levels are lowered, there is temporarily less nitrogen oxide around to break down existing ozone, which can cause a short-term spike in ozone-related health problems. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t still need lower ozone levels. A scientist from the Environmental Defense Fund made the comparison to the Tribune that people who have recently quit smoking have a higher risk of lung cancer temporarily before the risk drops off precipitously.
Honeycutt also says things like “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors” and “people who are near death” spend even more time inside to explain why we really shouldn’t be all that concerned about ozone levels. Because ozone doesn’t matter when you’re in the comfort of your home.
Honeycutt is now commissioning a $300,000 taxpayer-funded study to review scientific literature addressing the potential impact of ozone as asthma, since he has doubts about the connection. Except there is already evidence that not only does ozone aggravate asthma and increase the frequency of attacks, but it also makes it more difficult to breathe deeply, causes shortness of breath and coughing, inflames and damages the airways, aggravates other lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis, makes the lungs more susceptible to infection and can even continue to damage the lungs after symptoms have disappeared.
In June, the EPA recommended lowering ozone limits, and will be coming out with accompanying regulations by the end of this year. Houston, Dallas and San Antonio already do not meet the current standards. If they are lowered to the level currently being proposed, Austin, El Paso and several other regions of Texas will likely fall out of compliance too. That means basically anyone who lives in or near a Texas city is already at risk for ozone-related health problems.
But if TCEQ and Texas Republicans have their way, nothing will be done to stop the current trajectory. As the Dallas Observer puts it, TCEQ is “an agency that Governor Rick Perry’s 14-year hold over state government has turned into less a regulatory agency than an EPA-bashing propaganda machine.” And Greg Abbott, who actually used Wendy Davis’s support for lower ozone standards as grounds for an attack ad, wouldn’t be any different.