Environmental Protection

Clearing the Air

It is hot here in Texas. The next week’s worth of forecasts are almost exactly the same: 101 during the day, 78 at night.

Summer in Texas brings more than this dry, baking heat, though. The sun’s searing rays also heighten the air pollution that clouds the Metroplex, as we affectionately call the Dallas-Fort Worth area, bringing an air quality alert most summer days.

Indeed, the air quality here is pretty awful. Both Dallas and Tarrant counties received F’s in the American Lung Association’s annual air quality survey, and Tarrant County had 64 air quality alert days, including one “purple” day ( the most severe ranking). The dirty air here is a result of a number of factors: A large population spread out over about 3,000 square miles, underdeveloped public transportation, and a great number of industrial facilities all contribute to this area’s pervasive smog. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s adamant stance on not restricting industry in any way also doesn’t help much.

Texas and the EPA have a long history of contemptuous scuffles, and as could be expected, state officials bristled yesterday when EPA announced its stricter air pollution rules.

"Today's EPA announcement is another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington, D.C., that threatens Texas jobs and families and puts at risk the reliable and affordable electricity our state needs to succeed," Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, said in a statement.

Electricity costs in Texas(Excel file) are generally a smidge lower than the nationwide average. And while outfitting power plants with new scrubbers and other equipment to keep the air cleaner might bump our cost up above the national average, I’d be willing to pay it.

I heard an environmental activist on the radio talking about viewing the outlays associated with meeting regulations as an investment in a cleaner future, rather than a burdensome cost of compliance. While such touchy-feely, non-empirical arguments normally turn me off, I think it’s a useful way to think about air pollution.

That extra money Texans pay for electricity is going to make other people’s lives better. Would you pay an extra cent per kWh each month to prevent your neighbor’s son from getting asthma? So that an elderly man’s lungs don’t have to work as hard, allowing him to live possibly even years longer? I know I would.

With government regulations, we don’t always know that the extra money we pay as a result of a new policy is going to translate into social benefit – the beyond-contentious health care law comes to mind here. But in this case, we do. We know for certain that cleaner air enables people to live longer lives and have fewer health problems. It keeps lungs healthy, lets children play outside and even keeps our brains healthy and working properly. And so for that reason, I have no problem paying extra in my electric bill for clean air to keep myself and my neighbors healthy. Do you?

Posted by Laura Williams on Jul 11, 2011 at 12:43 PM


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