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Parts Per Billion and Other Things You Really Oughta Care About If You Breathe

In case you missed it, on Sunday some thousand folks gathered at the state capitol building to protest TXU's plans to build at least 11 new coal-fired plants in the state. And, in case you missed it, Laurie "Wife of Larry" David and Sheryl Crow are embarking on a two-week bus tour of the state and other Gulf Coast states to galvanize other folks who want TXU to stick their coal back where the sun don't shine.

And, in case you missed it, there was a piece in the latest issue of Fortune about TXU's plans to build those coal plants, and it included this quote from David Hawkins, a climate-change expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council: "This is an $11 billion step in the wrong direction, and when you're marching backward with $11 billion, you can do a lot of damage."

And, in case you missed it, at the end of last week, Mayor Laura Miller and her anti-coal coalition issued a report from David Allen, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas at Austin, which said, in short: The coal-fired plants will indeed increase the amount of smog in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by a lot. Look, we don't wanna get into parts per billion, mostly because we don't understand it. If you do, you're free to read the entire report here. If you don't, a summary of the report's after the jump. That is, in case you missed it. And in case you care. --Robert Wilonsky

TCACC Ozone Modeling Results

Dr. David Allen, Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas at Austin, and a well-known and respected air modeler across Texas and the U.S., together with his air quality modeling team, has conducted a review of the potential impacts of the proposed coal-fired power plants on the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Central and East Texas.

Unlike previous modeling reports, Dr. Allen's work includes a review of an entire ozone season in these areas. Ozone, or smog, is the pollutant that continues to exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards and causes human health concerns in three areas of the State including Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, and Beaumont/Port Arthur. Other areas on the verge of exceeding the EPA standard include Austin and Tyler/Longview.

For the first time, Dr. Allen's work indicates Waco may exceed the 8-hour ozone standard of 85 parts per billion (ppb), as a result of these coal-fired plants. As quoted from Dr. Allen's testimony which will be filed today, "When we examined the impacts of these proposed plants on ozone concentrations and fine particulate matter concentrations, we found that ozone concentrations and fine particulate matter concentrations would increase in each of the four urban areas we examined."

Information on each area is summarized below:

WACO — Although Waco does not currently have an air quality monitor in place, Dr. Allen found that based on available evidence the area might be in jeopardy of non-attainment if the proposed coal plants are built. The best available evidence indicates that the current ozone level is approximately 80 ppb, 5 ppb under the 8-hour ozone standard. "If the current fourth-highest ozone concentration in Waco is near 80 ppb, and the construction of the new plants increases that value by 6 to 7 ppb, as the seasonal model predicts, then the effects of the new plants may be to place Waco above the 85 ppb National Ambient Air Quality Standards," Allen wrote in his testimony. The possibility of exceeding federal air quality standards in Waco was not being discussed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the Environmental Protection Agency until these plants were proposed.

DALLAS/FT. WORTH — Dallas/Ft. Worth has struggled to reduce ozone levels for many years. This has cost millions of dollars to the region, and making it challenging to attract new businesses. Most importantly, DFW had over 30 ozone days last season, during which children and the elderly were warned their health might be at risk if they went outside.

Dr. Allen's work predicts that an increase of as much as 2.96 ppb of ozone may occur in the DFW area as a result of these plants. Even with the offsets, the modeling results show a potential impact to the DFW area by as much as 2.42 ppb. While the TCEQ has proposed a State Implementation Plan (SIP) that gets all but two monitors in the region below the federal standard of 85 ppb, these plants may increase the number of monitors that will display ozone levels above the federal standard.

AUSTIN — Austin is considered a near non-attainment area, and the local elected officials there have worked diligently to reduce ozone in the region. The region spent several years developing control strategies to reduce ozone levels by 1 ppb and has succeeded in keeping Austin at 83 ppb. According to Dr. Allen's work, these new power plants may negate the efforts by the local community to reduce the ozone levels in Austin. In fact, Dr. Allen predicted that the maximum ozone concentrations in Austin increased by 1.05 to 2.90 ppb. To put this into context, Dr. Allen states: "For example, the reductions in ozone concentration that are associated with having motor vehicle owners in the Austin area have their vehicles inspected are up to 0.5 parts per billion."

TYLER/LONGVIEW— After this past ozone season, the Tyler/Longview area monitors demonstrated that the region is at the ozone standard of 85 ppb. If air quality conditions do not improve next summer, Tyler/Longview will join Dallas, Houston and Beaumont as the fourth ozone non-attainment region in the State. Dr. Allen's work predicts an increase of over 2 ppb of ozone to the region as a result of these plants, sealing the region's fate. While the offsets that TXU has proposed mitigate these impacts, TXU still has been unwilling to share details of the 20% reduction with the public. This information is of utmost importance to this region of the state.

TRAINS — Dr. Allen also reviewed the impact of the trains carrying the coal burned at these plants from Wyoming through Texas. The impact is significant. According to Dr. Allen, "...we found that daily maximum ozone concentrations increased at one or more locations in each area on all days in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Tyler/Longview, and Waco areas and on 53 of 122 days in the Austin area." He also found that, on average, the additional emissions resulting from the trains neutralize virtually all of the benefits in the DFW region attributable to TXU's proposed offsets.

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