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Air quality and the Eagle Ford: a Q&A with Peter Bella, AACOG natural resources director

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Peter Bella

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Does that mean we're holding MSAs responsible for emissions that aren't really under their control?

I mean, it's holding the MSA responsible for values being registered on their monitors. That's  essentially what the issue is. If you fail, if you violate clean air standards and go into non attainment, then those rules and programs become required for the non attainment region. And you have this turkey talk with the state and the EPA on what that region really looks like. It starts with the MSA as the presumed boundary, then you start that talk. Should Wilson County be in it? It's got 35,000 people, they don't even have a major highway.

What consequences would non attainment trigger for San Antonio?

The main thing that happens when you're in non attainment is there are a lot of planning requirements that make transportation planning particularly cumbersome. There are what are called new-source reviews, a program that looks at the levels produced by business and industry. There may be requirements that say businesses have to implement cleaner technology. If you exceed, and it's local ozone precursors that are responsible, you've got to reduce your local ozone precursor production. Basically you've got to clean up your industry. You've got to make changes that will make industry contribute less pollution. You'll need to do transportation planning that will reduce emissions.

When you're in a non-attainment setting, you also have a situation where if a business wants to move into your non attainment region, or an existing business wants to expand — in both cases where you'd create new pollution by a new or expanded business — then they have to put in high level clean technology as well as potentially find offsets in the region. Lets say they implement cleaner technology but they still pollute a ton of NOx a day. Well then depending on your severity of non attainment, that company may be required to find 1.1 tons of NOx a day of offset in the region. They may need to find another industry that's emitting and find ways to help them reduce, and that's traditionally the onus for the business community. That's why San Antonio retaining its current status, the largest city in the country that's in compliance with all federal air quality standards, is a valuable commodity. That means that no you don't have those requirements if you are a new and expanding business. It's a big deal to the business community.

We know the projections for population growth show on the order of a million folks coming into the region over the next 30 years. That's why we're very concerned with making the transportation infrastructure as efficient as it can be. And that most definitely includes mass transit — that's why we're glad to see VIA getting natural-gas powered vehicles and even electric transit vehicles because people may say, 'Well if it's an electric vehicle that still means power's being generated at the power plant,' and that's right. But the concept of being able to control emissions at the power plant: that's a vastly easier business compared to controlling them from gas-powered engines. We've got a million and a half gasoline powered vehicles registered in Bexar County. It's vastly more difficult to control the emissions coming out from 1.5 million vehicles than it is to look at what's coming out of one power generation source. So that's one of the arguments for electric powered vehicles. And natural gas? Well, natural gas is cleaner burning. And then of course we need to talk in terms of solar or wind generation or geothermal. Those are some of the options that we're really coaching, really hoping to support as best we can.

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