Houston: Mayor Bill White on Thursday challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's methods for calculating emissions from large refineries and chemical plants, saying that the approach significantly underreports the amount of pollution in Houston's skies.
White said studies show that actual emissions can be 100 times greater than EPA estimates, which are based on industry-provided data.
To produce more reliable information, the federal agency should require refineries and chemical plants to verify the accuracy of their emissions with emerging laser technology and fence-line monitors, among other steps, White said.
"Up until now, the EPA has relied on rough estimates, and the companies themselves have done the estimates," he said. "It's a simple request, but it's a very bold request. It's a request that will allow the people of Houston to know what's in their air."
The mayor said federal, state and local governments must have reliable data to make decisions regarding public health. The push comes as state regulators work on a new pollution-fighting plan for the eight-county Houston region, one of the nation's smoggiest.
It's also White's latest attempt to confront regulators in his fight over toxic chemical emissions. In May, the city challenged the permits from a nearby plant to force the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to limit the levels of the carcinogen benzene in the air.
"You can't overstate how important this is," Matthew Tejada, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, said of the mayor's request to the EPA. "It's going to change your calculations of everything. It will open a can of worms, but it needs to be opened."
White said the EPA uses formulas, equations and assumptions to determine pollution levels from refineries and chemical plants that the agency itself described as flawed 12 years ago.
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