Looking towards IH 10 on Wurzbach Road, this is truly the traffic center of the city. Photo by Warren Lieberman.
Looking towards Interstate 10 on Wurzbach Parkway. Photo by Warren Lieberman.

Recognizing that air quality is a regional pursuit, a coalition of local city and county governments is working together to exchange ideas and model best practices in an effort to curb pollution in the San Antonio area. Because clean air requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, the group is asking all San Antonio residents to take action in the fight against ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone forms from chemicals that are released into the air, much of which are generated from burning gasoline, diesel, coal and other fuels. Because it poses a risk to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency limits the amount that can be in the atmosphere. Last month, the federal agency decreased the amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.

Members of the Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Committee of the Alamo Area Council of Governments recently approved an accord that commits each local government represented on the committee to consider adopting any air quality measure implemented by another member government.

The accord ensures that any air quality measure implemented in one local jurisdiction is, at the very least, vetted in the others — the intent being the creation of a regional network of partners collaborating to shoulder the burden of air quality together.

This is a significant step in curbing air pollution in the San Antonio area. For almost two decades, the San Antonio area has narrowly avoided being designated a “dirty-air city” but the new EPA standards could quickly change that.

On Oct. 1, the EPA changed the national ozone standard, stating that recent scientific evidence supports a tougher standard to better protect human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to designate whether areas of the country are in attainment of a new air quality standard within two years of changing it. If that timeline is followed, the new ozone standard virtually guarantees the San Antonio area will be designated nonattainment in 2017.

Attainment is based on an average of local ozone data over a rolling three-year period in which the average must not exceed 70 ppb. EPA anticipates using the 2014-2016 averaging period to establish the country’s attainment and nonattainment regions under the new ozone standard. The San Antonio area’s current average, based on 2013-2015 ozone data, is 78 ppb. That means we’re in trouble if we don’t act soon.

A non-attainment designation requires the adoption of emission controls and development of plans for cleaning the air and regaining attainment status. Emission controls are expensive and can cost public and private sector industries millions of dollars, negatively impacting the local economy.

The price of ozone pollution also includes health costs. Ground-level ozone causes breathing problems and has also been linked to heart disease. It is particularly harmful to children, people with respiratory illnesses, the elderly and those who are active outdoors. Other associated costs include the price of medical care and the effects of lost work and school time associated with air-quality-related illness.

Member governments of the AIR Committee are moving forward with clean air measures, which may include better land planning, restrictions on vehicle idling, vehicle emissions testing, phasing out of coal-fired power plants, and encouragement of mass transit, bicycling, walking, and ride-sharing.

But it’s important to recognize that because everyone — industries, businesses, and citizens — contributes to ozone pollution, everyone can be part of the solution. We need your help.

Our vehicle trips, the electricity we use, and the products we purchase provide opportunities for us to improve air quality by making choices that reduce their impact. Not only do these practices reduce emissions and improve public health incrementally, they save us money. Carpooling to work can save money spent on fuel. Programming thermostats can shave dollars off our power bills. We’re building a future for our children, wouldn’t you breathe a little easier knowing that you’re leaving it better than you found it? The time is now to make that promise and strive toward that goal.

*Top image: Looking towards Interstate 10 on Wurzbach Parkway. Photo by  Warren Lieberman. 

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City of San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg and City of Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley are the 2015 Chair and Vice Chair of AACOG’s Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Executive Committee.  The Committee...