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    Oct. 1, 2004, 10:58PM

    Houston tops for bad air
    Smog season shows more bad days than L.A., hitting '98 levels

    Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

    Here's the good news: Houston is beating Los Angeles. The bad news is that we're not talking about the Rockets and Lakers.

    With just weeks left in this year's smog season, Houston appears set to reclaim the mantle of worst air quality in the nation. Through September, Houston has eight more days of bad smog than Los Angeles and appears unlikely to give up its lead, air-quality experts say.

    Thursday put an emphatic stamp on Houston's smog season when 95 percent of the region's air-quality monitors reported unhealthy ozone levels. Bad smog levels haven't been that widespread in the Houston area since at least 1998.

    "This year, and this week in particular, shows how far we are from achieving our air-quality goals," said John Wilson, executive director of the environmental group Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention.

    Ozone, an odorless, colorless gas, is a primary component of smog. It is closely watched because in high-enough concentrations it is harmful to the lungs. Ozone also is a good indicator that other chemicals, such as hydrocarbons, are present in the atmosphere.

    The most common measure of air quality is the number of days a year that ozone levels exceed federal standards at one or more monitoring sites in an area. Levels this year exceeded that standard, 125 parts per billion for at least one hour, on 35 days. Los Angeles has had 27 such days.

    By this measure Houston had worse air than Los Angeles in 1999 and 2000, bringing national scrutiny and worrying business leaders trying to attract companies to the area.

    Smog season generally ends after October in Los Angeles and after November in Houston.

    Yet simply measuring the gross number of days that an area measures at least one air-quality violation is a "poor statistic," said Bryan Lambeth, a senior meteorologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who tracks ground-level ozone.

    Lambeth said the health concern is regular exposure to ozone, and it is less critical if one site in southeast Houston measures unhealthy levels one day, and a site in northwest Harris County the next.

    "It is also very important to mention that the areawide statistic is heavily influenced by the number of monitors," Lambeth said.

    Indeed, although the number of bad smog days has remained relatively constant in Houston for the past four years, the number of air-quality monitors has nearly doubled to 45, he said. Los Angeles has 35 monitors in a four-county area.

    Lambeth said a better way to measure air quality is the number of days air quality exceeds federal standards at a particular site.

    The worst location in Houston this year is near Tom Bass Park, in south Houston, where there have been eight air-quality violations.

    Yet even by using this statistic Houston remains a long way from its goal of meeting federal clean-air standards by 2007, Wilson said. Any monitor in the Houston area can't have more than one violation a year to meet the Clean Air Act requirements, he said.

    By most measures, however, Houston isn't having a terribly bad smog season. It now has the same number of days as last year and is below late-1990s levels, when the city averaged more than 40 bad smog days a year.

    It is the improvement by Los Angeles that will likely vault Houston back into the position of having the worst smog in the country.

    Los Angeles has seen a dramatic fall-off from 2003, when it recorded 68 bad-air days. Air-quality experts don't credit pollution-control measures with that city's success this year.

    The city has had cooler temperatures and windier conditions this season, both of which lead to cleaner air. Sunshine helps ozone form, and calm winds allow the chemicals to accumulate over a particular area.

    "This has been a very clean year for us," said Joe Cassmassi, a senior meteorologist with California's South Coast Air Quality Management District. "It's been one of those years where the weather conditions have lent themselves to keeping the smog levels down.

    "It's just the opposite of last year."

    Source: Houston Chronicle
    "Blue Oh-Two" (#424)
    Rick's header, Hondata gasket, Mugen thermostat/fan switch, Mugen radiator cap, Aussie mirror, Lucid's rear speakers, Alpine CDA-7893R & KCE-865B, Muz's saddlebag, Windscreen Light, Modifry's glove box organizer and lots of Zaino!

  • #2
    Houston Business Journal
    From the October 25, 2004 print edition
    Energy Beat

    Houstonians show concern about air pollution in statewide poll
    Monica Perin

    At the third and final Presidential debate last week, neither energy nor the environment came up at all. In fact, neither topic was ever addressed at length during the entire series of debates, which may have been unwise.

    Aside from the fact that energy gets everyone's attention when gasoline approaches $2 a gallon, a lot of Americans, including Texans, are also very much concerned about environmental issues.

    That is the finding of a survey recently conducted by Green Mountain Energy Co., an Austin-based electricity retailer that markets "clean" power produced by wind, solar, water, biomass and other renewable sources.

    In the mid-September poll of 1,007 Texas adults and 500 teenagers, 94 percent of the adults statewide -- 98 percent in Houston -- and 96 percent of teenagers statewide and in Houston said they were concerned or extremely concerned about the effect of air pollution on their family's health.

    And the top environmental priority of both the adults and teens was cleaner air. In Houston, 37 percent of the adults surveyed and 38 percent of the teens said cleaner air is the No. 1 environmental improvement they want.

    Perhaps even more significant is that, by huge majorities, adults and teenagers statewide and in Houston believe they can have a personal impact on air pollution in Texas. Eighty-seven percent of adults overall -- 89 percent in Houston -- 86 percent of teens and 90 percent of teens in Houston expressed that view.

    However, only 5 percent of Texas adults -- even fewer, 2 percent in Houston -- and 2 percent of teens correctly identified electricity generation as the No. 1 cause of air pollution in the state. Thirty percent had no idea how their electricity is produced -- whether from natural gas or another fuel source.

    Meanwhile, Texas led the nation in carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in 2003, accounting for more than 243 million tons of CO2 emissions -- the equivalent of adding 43 million cars to Texas roads.

    Most Houston residents polled -- 35 percent -- thought the chemical industry was the worst offender in creating the area's air pollution, while most people in other parts of the state think vehicles are to blame.

    But nearly all the Texans polled -- 97 percent to 98 percent -- believe renewable energy is a good or critical idea for the future of the state.

    Nearly 75 percent of adults and two-thirds of teens believe wind and solar power are reliable sources of electricity. They are the top choices of renewable energy by 79 percent to 83 percent of respondents.

    The separate polling of adults and teens produced interesting and sometimes surprising results. Eighty-eight percent of adults reported that their children have a strong impact on how they think about the environment. But only a little more than half the teens believe they influence their parents on environmental issues.

    Just over half the adults -- 58 percent -- believe that the most important environmental lesson to teach their children is "the importance of leaving things better than they found them."

    The survey was conducted to coincide with two key milestones recently attained by Green Mountain Energy since its inception in 1997: The sale of more than 6 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy, and signing up the company's 600,000th customer for clean electricity.

    "The strides that we have made in the last six years prove that hard work, focus and commitment to a mission have their rewards," says Paul Thomas, president and CEO of Green Mountain. "We have made more than twice the renewable energy purchases our competitors have made."

    In 2003, the Top 10 green electricity programs combined had about 190,000 customers and sold about 1 billion kilowatts per hour of "clean" electricity, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    "Over the last five years we've seen significant growth in residential customers having access to cleaner energy options and making the decision to purchase cleaner energy," says Lori Bird, senior energy analyst with NREL. "We expect this trend to continue."

    Source: Houston Business Journal
    "Blue Oh-Two" (#424)
    Rick's header, Hondata gasket, Mugen thermostat/fan switch, Mugen radiator cap, Aussie mirror, Lucid's rear speakers, Alpine CDA-7893R & KCE-865B, Muz's saddlebag, Windscreen Light, Modifry's glove box organizer and lots of Zaino!