Fact-Checking Perry (Big Chore)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Gov. Perry has a nasty anti-science streak. Yesterday, Perry ripped into the new EPA smog standard, issuing a statement that made several improbable claims. Here is the statement in full, punctuated by my remarks:

“The EPA’s only consistent target has been the target on the backs of Texas workers and taxpayers.

“If this proposal is adopted, it will mark the second time in two years the federal government has imposed drastically reduced standards on states. We’ve worked hard and invested over $1 billion to reach compliance on the original target without sacrificing Texas jobs or economic momentum.

Let’s review the facts. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must review the ozone standard every five, taking into account the latest science on smog’s health and environmental effects. Under the terms of a 2001 Supreme Court ruling the EPA can only consider the standard’s impact on public health. Economic factors cannot be considered.

The ozone rule was last changed in 2008 when the Bush EPA lowered the limit from 84 parts per billion to 75 ppb. This move actually outraged public health advocates. The reason why is that a scientific panel advising the Bush EPA had unanimously recommended an ozone limit of 60-70ppb.

This didn’t sit well with the White House and its buddies in polluting industries. As the Washington Post reported in March 2008, Bush himself intervened in the process, effectively stopping the EPA from going with the stricter limit.

The difference between 75 ppb and 65 ppb is not academic. The Bush EPA calucated that the stricter standard would prevent 3,000 to 9,200 premature deaths each year whereas 75 ppb would avoid 1,300 to 3,500 deaths. In other words, 10 ppb could save thousands of lives every year.

The standard that the Obama EPA proposed today is identical to the one suggested by the scientific advisors under the Bush administration.

Back to Perry:

“Since 2000, Texas clean air efforts have helped slash levels of NOx gases, a precursor to ozone, by 46 percent, and overall ozone by 22 percent. We’ve done this during a time of economic prosperity unrivaled in the nation.

Most clean air advocates will tell you that progress has been made despite the state, not because of it. The Houston-Galveston area has made some significant gains but those can be largely attributed to the leadership of Houston-area officials, including (uh-oh) former mayor Bill White, who may be Perry’s gubernatorial opponent in a few months.

The Metroplex, on the other hand, has struggled to meet the current standard, in part, because the TCEQ has refused to adopt the clean-air measures recommended by a diverse group of business interests, environmentalists and government officials in North Texas.

TCEQ, run by three Perry appointees, is widely viewed as an obstructionist agency that runs interference for polluters. One clean air group, Metroplex-based Downwinders at Risk, is urging EPA to remove TCEQ from the process.

Perry again:

“From cap and tax legislation to regulating CO2 to moving ozone targets, the Obama administration seems intent upon following flawed science down a road that will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs, while doing nothing more to protect human health.”

Reasonable people can debate the merits of cap-and-trade or a particular ozone standard, but to suggest that reducing smog will do “nothing more to protect human health” is deeply cynical. It flies in the face of well-established facts and plain common sense.

Fact: ground-level ozone exacerbates respiratory problems, especially in children. Ozone can worsen cardiovascular problems, and, yes, kill people prematurely.

Perry provides not one iota of evidence that the science behind the new smog standard is “flawed” or that it will do “nothing” to protect human health.

I asked Matthew Tejada, the executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP), what he thought of Perry’s statement. Here’s part of his email:

For the Governor to say that there will be no health benefit in cleaning up our ozone problem is about the same as claiming that water won’t freeze at temperatures less than 32 f.

There are two things to consider here with regards to the real impact on Texas.  First – now is the time to accept reality that one day we are going to move away from much of our need of refining and/or burning fossil fuels.  We can debate about exactly how long we can delay that eventuality, but the fact remains that the day will come.

We also cannot deny that most of the rest of the world has made peace with this fact and is moving forward.  Texas, unfortunately, has not.  So we spend all of our time and energy desperately trying to protect the jobs of the past instead of making sure we build and protect the jobs of the future.  This will serve Texas very poorly over the long term.

Second, this newer, lower ozone standard will hopefully finally start to bring into the sharp focus the real cost of our dirty ways in terms of health and life.  When you start looking nationwide at the cost in dollars and the cost in years and lives of continuing to burn fossil fuels, it drastically realigns our understanding of “cheap” coal and oil and “expensive” wind and solar.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

Published at 12:00 am CST